HADITHAH, Iraq --
The morning of July 4th started out like any other day inside the Hadithah Police Station. The Iraqi Police conducted morning police call, uniforms were set straight, and reports were prepared. The Marines of the Hadithah Police Transition Team (PiTT) gave guidance to their Iraqi counter-parts, making corrections wherever necessary. As the heat began filling the building, the anticipation for the day’s events grew.
Within the building’s multi-purpose room, the morning formation lined up. However, the formation wasn’t made up of Iraqi police officers standing at attention, ready for drill practice. In fact, no one was standing at attention. July 4th was the first Youth Soccer Day held at the Hadithah Police Station.
Over 200 local children gathered at the police station for a chance to play soccer with their police officers. The police and children were equally excited for the day’s festivities.
The first hour was spent posing for pictures. After the initial photo op and introductions, soccer balls were passed out. Through donations from friends and family back in the United States and from some Iraqi Police Officers, over 100 soccer balls were given to the kids. Along with the soccer balls, hundreds of toys, stuffed animals, and backpacks were also donated.
Lieutenant Col. Mazher Hasan Khazal, the Hadithah Police Chief said, “today is a great day, not only for the Iraqi Police, but for all of Hadithah. We will never forget what our Marine brothers have done to make this possible.”
The current Iraqi Police Station is actually a hardened building, which once served as the city’s Youth Center. The Marines and Iraqi Police took over the building in October 2006. For the past several years, there hasn’t been a need for a youth center, most of the city’s children would rarely go outside.
The need for some type of outlet for the kids during their summer school break, a time when terrorists recruit young children, prompted the PiTT Marines to come up with a youth-oriented soccer program.
Members of the PiTT team were sitting around talking about their families one night with the Iraqi leadership. They tried to explain the Boy and Girl Scouts of America to the police chief, and he asked if they could help set something like that up in Hadithah. That’s when the PiTT came up with the idea for a soccer camp. The police chief loved the idea
Friendliness from the locals toward Marine and Iraqi Forces over the last few years has been minimal. Anyone approaching a Marine or Iraqi patrol was looked at as a possible insurgent, and not allowed to get too close. The city has seen a shift in the security and the attitude of the local people. The success of the Youth Soccer Day proved the rebirth this city has seen. Marines and police alike were covered with hugging hands and grabbing fingers.
“I thought that at one point the kids were just going to mob me over,” said Cpl. Joseph Dayner, PiTT communications advisor. “I just kept pushing through the crowd passing out toys.”
The Youth Soccer Day was a testament to the successful counter-insurgency campaign 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines is conducting in the Hadithah Triad. The Iraqi Police have played a large role in the city’s stability. The force is a lot larger, more professional, and the people of Hadithah readily accept them. It is a sign of hope that the situation here has turned the right corner.