Creating A Safe Place For Iraq’s Future
September 30, 2007
The children in Iraq, just like children here in the United States are full of energy and always ready to play. Because areas for children to play in have been damaged by ongoing violence, many children resorted to playing soccer in alleyways or running amongst the cars parked on the street, playing tag. Just like here in the United States, the streets and alleys aren’t the safest places for children to be playing, and many parents hesitated to allow their children to do so. For the children in Tisin, which is an ethnically mixed neighborhood located northwest of Kirkuk, there wasn’t a safe place for them to play. That recently changed, when local government leaders working with Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the Iraqi Army’s 4th Division decided to work together and change that.
Two small girls are among the first children to enjoy one of several swings at the new Tisin Playground in Kirkuk, Iraq. The playground - the result of a joint project involving local government, 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the Iraqi Army’s 4th Division - opened Sept. 24th. (US ARmy photo by Sgt. Mike Alberts)
On September 24th a ribbon cutting was held at a new playground that is complete with swings, slides and play towers. The idea originated almost as an afterthought at a joint Iraqi security and coalition force leaders meeting. The result is a brand new playground that addressed an immediate concern for the citizens of the community of Tisin and it serves as a shining symbol of progress and hope for the citizens of the area.
“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 US Army Lt Col James D. Hess, battalion commander of 325th Brigade Support Battalion, 3IBCT. “In response, an Iraqi Army commander said, ‘Yes but children shouldn’t have to play in the streets.’”
Hess recalls observing the exchange and keeping that exchange sticking in the back of his mind.
“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.”
Four months later, when conditions seemed improved enough for this type of project to succeed, Hess then contacted the brigade’s civil affairs officer and eventually even Army Captain Justin Gorkowski and the Iraqi Army’s 4th Division got involved. Gorkowski who works in an Iraqi Army compound located at the outskirts of Kirkuk, devotes his time to training and mentoring the 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army’s civil affairs staff.
“The playground is very important,” said Major Zyad Junade, civil affairs officer, 2-4 Iraqi Army.
Junade and his staff then drafted a proposal for the project and presented it to the local government officials for their approval. He also was instrumental in finding an appropriate location for the project and worked closely with Kirkuk’s Director of Municipalities to do so.
This project will have not only an immediate impact on the community but a lasting one. The playground is located near many houses in the neighborhood as well as the largest orphanage in Kirkuk. The playground is part of a larger park project that will eventually include gardens, lighted walkways and have 24 hour security present.
“Ultimately, it was placed in a neighborhood where the people need to see their government and the Iraqi Security focusing on winning the support of the local population by providing the community with core essential services, among other things. The playground project didn’t really fall under our traditional model, but it was still something that we thought would be very effective,” said Gorkowski. “These types of projects are critical to defeating an insurgency. A family will look at this as much more valuable than security forces coming to their home in the middle of the night and asking them if they have seen any bad guys.”
This is a wonderful project which most definitely is something that will not only provide safety for the children in the community, but also show the citizens that their government and Coalition Forces are invested in the future of their country, because they are investing in the children, who are the future of Iraq. One look at the photo and the sheer joy on the faces of those two little girls, says a whole lot about the value a project like this has to a community such as the Tisin neighborhood of Kirkuk.