By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - After Iraq embraced the scouting movement during the British occupation in 1921, its Boy Scout and Girl Guide program became a member of the World Organization Scouting Movement. Due to war and instability, it has been decertified twice by the World Organization Scouting Movement.
Improvements in security have led to a resurgence of scouting thanks a to group of dedicated service members. That group, called the Victory Base Council, is working to get the adults of Iraq to become more involved and, very soon, take over the program they’ve began to build toward recertification.
Since the Victory Base Council established a scout camp and community center here in April 2008, up to 150 service members have come together each Saturday to teach valuable scouting lessons and implement new sporting activities to the area’s youth. Today, the elementary-age children learned about heat injuries and worked with arts and crafts while older children played soccer, volleyball and learned how an airport fire truck puts out fires.
“Today we have a small group,” said Maj. John Crawson, who is the Victory Base Complex base defense operations center supply officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Last week the turn-out was large, with 80 children and over 40 adults playing baseball said Crawson.
In one tent, Maj. Ken Broussard, the environmental science officer from the division surgeon’s office of the 1st Cavalry Division, taught the younger children via an interpreter how to spot and prevent heat injuries. “The first thing you want to do is bring them into the shade,” said Broussard, who is from Pensacola, Fla. “You also need to make sure they drink plenty of water,” he continued and on cue, one of the little girls said she was thirsty and she and a few others ran out of the tent to grab water bottles.
When they returned, Broussard finished his lesson by answering the children’s questions and Zaina, 9, raised her hand and said, “You drink water so that it can cool your heart.” Amid the applause, Broussard nodded his approval saying that water helps cool your internal organs.
After the heat prevention lesson, the children moved over to the arts and crafts tent and began painting, coloring and putting together small, wooden model airplanes that were donated by schools in the United States.
“This gives me a sense of belonging and they [the children] accept me and have grown quite fond of the activities that we do,” said Staff Sgt. Kelly Greene, a reservist and supply noncommissioned officer with Alpha Company, 301st Military Intelligence Battalion, Multi-National Corps - Iraq, as she helped with the children’s artwork. “I’ve been doing this since September and it’s a good outlet for me,” said the 5th grade elementary school teacher from Enterprise, Ariz., who is also the Girl Guide program officer for the Victory Base Council.
One table over, Mariem, 5, concentrated on the wheels of her wooden model plane as Maj. Gary Farley, an Iraqi Ground Forces Command Military Transition Team advisor for Multi-National Corps - Iraq, prepared the glue.
“I love to be with the children, compared to 2003, where I just looked at people and they looked at me. Now, I get to interact with them and it’s a lot more fulfilling to see the little ones. They’re so open to new things,” he said as Mariem looked at him for assurance after assembling the wheels. Farley, who is from Gowanda, N.Y., continued, “Sometimes you may not know what you’re doing now, but later on after we leave here, your hope is that these little ones remember the good things that they did and good people helping.”
Amid the shouts from the kids playing volleyball and soccer with Air Force and Army personnel, a high-pitched alarm and the deep rumble of an airport fire engine signaled the next installment of instruction, courtesy of the firefighters from the 447th Civil Engineering Fire Department from Sather Air Base. A geyser of water spewed from the front of the truck and children ran over to get doused while others climbed into the cab of the truck to see what was making all the noise.
“I come because I like the fun and we get to play,” said Mohammed, a 13-year-old Scout, as children’s voices echoed over the fire truck’s public address loudspeaker. “I’ve learned about volleyball and baseball too!” he exclaimed.
Back at the main tent, joy was evident on the faces of the children running around as they tried to avoid the colorful water balloons zipping through the air.
Sgt. Kassidy Fitzwater, a multi-channel system operator with the 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, Multi-National Corps - Iraq, was lovingly bombarded with water balloons by the squealing children. After the raid, she walked toward the camp’s flagpoles to mark the day’s closing ceremony. Fitzwater, a resident of Pensacola, with the Florida National Guard, was today’s event coordinator.
“The water balloons were our back-up if the fire truck wasn’t able to show up,” she said as she smoothed her hair back. “I’ve been doing this since January and I’ve seen that we haven’t had to use our interpreters as much because the kids are learning some English,” she said. Fitzwater continued as the children lined up in front of the Iraqi, Iraqi Scout and U.S. flags, “All this makes an impact on the kids because they remember our names and our faces so I intend to keep volunteering until I leave.”
As the sun slowly descended past the tops of the palm trees, the youth of a new Iraq lined up shoulder to shoulder to say their scout motto while the service members who took a little time from their day gathered some distance behind them. Afterward, happy children and smiling service members streamed out of the camp, back home and back to work after taking another step toward helping to build a successful Iraqi scout program and a brighter future for Iraq.