RUTBAH, Iraq -- As a national pastime in Iraq, soccer is played in almost any available open space large enough to accommodate a game. Children’s voices crying out for ‘tubba’, or soccer balls, can be heard following Marines wherever they go in Rutbah, Iraq.
Cluttered streets, rock filled lots, uneven fields, and dusty alleys are used as impromptu soccer fields by young and old looking for a good game.
When the Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) arrived to provide security in Rutbah in late Jan. 2007, the Light Armored Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 15thMEU (SOC) began patrolling the city to assess the quality of life of the locals, according to Sgt. Timothy W. Shaw, scout team leader, LAR platoon.
During their time on patrol in the streets of Rutbah, interacting with the locals, the Marines of LAR platoon observed many of the city’s residents playing soccer, and an idea was born. The leaders of LAR platoon decided to build a soccer field for the people of Rutbah, according to Shaw.
The Marines got the ball rolling by first identifying a suitable area to place the field. “From rolling through the area, we saw where the majority of the kids were, where they hung out” Shaw said.
The mission took a few weeks of planning. The Marines picked out an open lot in the city and set out to construct two goals and a scoreboard, according to Lance Cpl. Josh D. Manning, LAV scout.
“We’d been working on it for about three weeks, in between missions,” Manning said.
The chosen site was a mess when the Marines arrived. “There was some trash and some big rocks,” said Shaw, “there was a big tank that came off a semi truck that was rolled over in the way of the field, so we pushed that out of the way.”
But the Marines were not the only ones working to establish the field, said Lance Cpl. Lee T. Holmes, light armored vehicle crewman.
“The locals actually came out and helped us clear out some of the area,” Holmes said. “Once they saw what we were doing, they got pretty excited and started giving a helping hand.”
The soccer field serves as more than a recreational outlet for the citizens of Rutbah because it cultivates a sense of openness between the locals and the Marines in the area, according to Shaw.
After the lines were laid and the goals set, the event was complete with a match between the LAR Marines and some of the Iraqi children who helped in the four hour project, said Shaw.
“Some of our younger Marines, five of them, played the children in a soccer game afterwards,” Shaw said.
Though the Marines lost the game, they gained much more by reaching out to the residents of Rutbah. The project will pay off for all coalition forces in the area, according to Shaw.
“We go out and we build them (the soccer field) and we give them soccer balls,” said Shaw. “They can see us as people, not just somebody walking around the neighborhood with guns.”