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Friday, April 11, 2008

Camp Teaches Iraqi Children Basketball

From Multi-National Force - Iraq:

With the ball, Spc. Cortez Cox, a water purification specialist, and Staff Sgt. Howard Benjamin, a section leader, both with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), teach Radwaniyah children how to defend and take the ball away during day two of a three-day basketball camp at Patrol Base Lion’s Den. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tony M. Lindback, 3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. (AASLT).

Friday, 11 April 2008
By Staff Sgt. Tony M. Lindback
3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. (AASLT)

PATROL BASE LION’S DEN — Radwaniyah area children were treated to something a little out of the ordinary when U.S. Soldiers at Patrol Base Lion’s Den held a basketball camp recently.

Holding a basketball camp where Soldiers could teach lessons in teamwork, discipline and hard work, resulted from Staff Sgt. Christopher Dickerson and his company commander, Capt. Sean Morrow, putting their heads together.

Dickerson and Morrow wanted Company B, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), to give back to the community and get the kids in the area together. Their idea captured the support of many company Soldiers, some of whom, like Sgt. Dwight Williams, added ideas and manpower to make the camp a hit.

Williams, originally from Birmingham, Ala., has a brother who holds a basketball camp at home every summer. Williams said he tries to make it to the camp to help each year, but donates $500 to sponsor five children when he can’t be there.

“Being over here this time, I got to work with the Iraqi kids and I felt just like I was back at home,” Williams said. “I was able to give back to the community.”

Giving back to Radwaniyah has involved more than just teaching basketball. One sheikh said the security the Americans had established was the first gift to the community.

“Thanks to God, the Iraqi Army and the Coalition forces, the security is very good,” said Sheikh Hameed Shalal Al-Tharib, a local leader in Radwaniyah. “That makes a good situation where our kids can play soccer, or come here and learn basketball.”

Teaching the children basketball, an American game, instead of soccer - a much more common game in Iraq - had its purpose. The Soldiers wanted to share American culture, but they also wanted to get everyone on common ground, starting off as beginners. They brought in Iraqi Army Soldiers and sheikhs to give the youth figures to look to for learning.

“We wanted to bring them in and have the IA with us so they could serve as good role models,” said Atlanta native, 1st Lt. Trivius Caldwell, 3rd Platoon leader for Co. B, 2-69th Armor Regt. “We wanted to teach them basic elements of life – teamwork, discipline, hard work – things of that nature. I think we accomplished that.”

Williams said he felt the Iraqi children may have had a misunderstanding of why Americans are in Iraq and the basketball camp was one way to show them what kind of people Americans really are.

“The kids really enjoyed it because they had heard about Americans,” Williams said. “But there’s a big difference between hearing about us and standing there with us and shaking our hands. I think they really enjoyed that more than the basketball camp – getting to interact with us.”

Eighteen children showed up for the first day of the three-day camp, 27 came on the second day and there were 47 by the last day.

“It’s just like spreading the word back home; if one kid likes it, he’s going to tell a friend and then he’ll tell a friend,” Williams said. “We were just glad to have so many kids come out.”

The children formed teams and played a championship game at the culmination of camp, allowing them to show off what they had learned. They were then treated to a cookout and given awards. Twenty-five children got one more thing, something they held dearly as they walked away – their very own Quran.

“In my brother’s camp (in Birmingham) we give out Bibles,” Williams said. “Here, a lot of families don’t have Qurans, so we gave out Qurans … Giving out a Quran is letting them know, ‘I respect your religion, just like I respect mine.’”

Local sheikhs happily brought the Qurans in at the request of Morrow.

“It’s a great thing to give the Quran to the children at the end of the basketball camp,” Sheik Al-Tharib said. “We want to teach our kids about more than sports … Since the people here are poor, it’s good that each kid can now have his own Quran – something his family maybe didn’t have before.”

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