By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke, MND-B PAO
VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq – Twenty-five children lined up outside the entrance to Saddam Hussein’s old Flintstone Palace, on Camp Slayer, here, August 2. The boys and girls were split into two groups, each led by a volunteer service member. Maj. Gary Farley, an Iraqi Ground Forces Command Military Transition Team advisor for Multi-National Corps - Iraq, led one of the groups up the winding path to the entrance of the main structure while the other group was led around the palace to the edge of a man-made lake.
Today, the Iraqi Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Victory Base Complex ventured out to begin a community service project and learn a little about fishing. The organization recently celebrated its one-year anniversary after establishing a scout camp and community to teach valuable scouting lessons and implement new sporting activities for the area’s youth. Over 100 service members take time from their schedules and meet with the children each Saturday.
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. After its one year mark this past April, the program is only growing stronger.
Inside the main structure of the Flintstone Palace, Farley led the children through the doorway. The children look around, wide-eyed, at the graffiti that has accumulated over the years, and a linguist explained to the children what they were to do.
The Flintstone Palace was commissioned by Saddam Hussein for his grandchildren and modeled after the neighborhood in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Over the years, the unused structure has fallen into disrepair in some areas and is covered with graffiti. The scouts’ mission was to beautify the building after learning its history and take a break by fishing from the back porch of the building.
“Maj. Raheem wanted to do something off site,” said Farley, who is from Gowanda, N.Y. “We wanted to show the kids that this place is part of their history and that community service begins by connecting ideas and bringing people together to accomplish a mission,” he added as the linguist finished explaining what was required of the children. Maj. Raheem Falah, a member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, and Farley have worked together for several months now, organizing events for the children.
The kids wasted no time grabbing paintbrushes and paint. With VBC service members by their sides, they began white-washing the walls of the palace as other service members took care of the higher areas with rollers.
On the porch outside the palace, the water glistened as the sun slowly drifted west. Small groups of scouts and service members huddled over fishing poles, showing the children how to bait the hooks, swing the poles back and cast the lines. Once the children understood what do to, they began to cast out, disturbing the water’s smooth surface as each baited hook plopped down.
Spc. David Hughes, an ammunition specialist with 2nd Platoon, 664th Ordinance Company, 10th Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, and 13-yr old Mohammad picked their spot and were baiting their line.
“I got a 2-yr old back home and I’d like someone to do this with my daughter if the opportunity came up,” said Hughes, a Branchville, S.C. native.
On the edge of the structure that resembled a balcony, Maj. Raheem blew a whistle, signaling that the groups needed to switch places. Children who were fishing eagerly climbed the steps leading to the main building, entered the rounded doorway, and picked up the brushes that their fellows dropped in the pans and began covering the spray-painted walls. Others who were painting now stood at the water’s edge with their eyes fixed on a linguist who explained how to set up their fishing poles as they were picking at the dried paint on their hands.
Back inside the main building, 1st Lt. Jacqueline Zuluaga, an ambulance platoon leader with the 256th Area Support Medical Company, 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 1st Medical Command, attached to MND-B, seemed to be everywhere at once. The Florida National Guard Soldier, who was one of the event’s main planners, was shoving water bottles into the icy depths of a big cooler.
“We wanted the children to paint the palace and clean up the graffiti here,” said the Orlando native. “It’s more for them than for us. Scouting is all about giving back to the community and here they’re doing that and establishing a new footprint. This can empower them to take ownership of their community,” she said.
As the children moved from room to room, they would stop and marvel at the explosion of color on one large wall where Abdul Sajad, an artist, was hard at work painting a mural depicting a summer landscape with flowers and birds in flight.
After both groups had painted and tried their new-found skill at fishing, they lined up outside the rear entrance of the building. Each child came in, dipped their palms in colorful paint, and left their little handprints on the wall.
“The kids need to learn about giving back,” said 1st Lt. Jessica Burton, of the 644th Ordinance Detachment, 620th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sus. Bde., 1st Cav. Div., MND-B. “They can learn to take pride in their work and in their community. These kids weren’t even allowed here in Saddam’s time,” said the New Braunfels, Texas, native who serves the officer in charge of an ammunition supply point.
“The handprints signify them leaving their mark and when they come back they can say ‘Hey that’s my hand,’” said Farley as he watched the smiling children pressing their painted palms on the walls. “I hope this artwork deters any future graffiti,” he added.
Outside the main entrance, the high-pitched squeal of a power drill attracted the scouts. A sign was being fixed to the wall. It read in Arabic and English: “Restoring one place at a time. The Iraqi Boy Scouts and Girl Guides worked to improve this site. Please keep Iraq beautiful. The future of Iraq thanks you.”
“Another group of kids will come next month to continue the painting until it’s finished,” said Farley. Thanks to dedicated service members and the youth of Iraq, the eyesore at the edge of Camp Slayer can be a place of pride for the community that surrounds it.