|KIRKUK, Iraq, Sept. 27, 2007 — The children here show no shortage of energy or imagination. On any given day, some play soccer in dirt alleys; others noisily run among parked cars playing in an Iraqi equivalent of “tag.”
What the children in Tisin, an ethnically mixed neighborhood in northwest Kirkuk, lacked was a safe place to play with ready-made fun. That is, until local government leaders and the soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the Iraqi army’s 4th Division got together.
The playground, complete with swings, sliding boards and play towers opened on Sept. 24, 2007, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
|Its the children who will lead this country out of despair; its the children that will carry this country beyond sectarian strife.
Lt. Col. James D. Hess
The playground idea originated from an off-hand remark during a joint Iraqi security and coalition force leaders’ meeting. The result is a project that has addressed an immediate public need and can serve as a symbol of progress and hope for the citizens of Kirkuk.
“During a meeting after a combat operation someone remarked, ‘Now the children of Kirkuk can play in the streets,’ referencing the improved security situation,” recalled Army Lt. Col. James D. Hess, battalion commander, 325th Brigade Support Battalion, 3IBCT. “In response, an Iraqi army commander said, ‘Yes, but children shouldn’t have to play in the streets.’”
Hess, who observed the exchange from the back of the meeting room, filed away the idea.
“I thought, ‘OK Here’s something that my battalion, the brigade’s support battalion, and the one without a direct combat role, can become involved in to offer hope for Iraq’s future generation,” said Hess. “It’s the children who will lead this country out of despair; it’s the children that will carry this country beyond sectarian strife.”
Sensing the conditions for this type of project were favorable, four months later, Hess contacted the brigade’s civil affairs officer and, eventually, Army Capt. Justin Gorkowski and the Iraqi Army’s 4th Division got involved. Gorkowski works from an Iraqi army compound located on the outskirts of Kirkuk. He devotes his time training and mentoring the 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army’s civil affairs’ staff.
“The playground is very important,” said Maj. Zyad Junade, civil affairs officer, 2-4 IA, through an interpreter. Junade and his staff drafted the project proposal and introduced it to local government officials for approval. He also spearheaded identifying an appropriate location for the project with Kirkuk’s Director of Municipalities.
“Ultimately, it was placed in a neighborhood where the people need to see their government and the Iraqi security