by Capt. Gabriel Scheinbaum, U.S.A.
American Reporter Special Correspondent
July 10, 2006
DID YOU MISS THE MOSUL CUP?
MOSUL, Iraq -- Radio listeners of Paul Harvey's "The Rest of The Story" could tune in daily anywhere in America for the past four decades and hear his distinctive voice and often humorous, always poignant tales of America. There was always the well-known, book-cover version of a story, then a commercial break he would usually narrate himself, and 60 seconds later he would hit you with all the fabric that you never saw - the rest of the story.
I often feel that way when I read about the Iraq War on the Internet. You have the big neon sign, the shrimp and lobster, but where are the side dishes that should make you full? Where is the rest of the story?
Well, I am nearly a week late on a column I wanted to write about spending my 4th of July serving in Iraq. And before you say, "Hey, man, the world moves at light speed! the 4th of July was like a week ago. Why should I care?", let's just say the war has kept me busy.
How was your Independence Day?
Barbecue? Beer? Fireworks? How about soccer? What, no soccer? Too bad.
My 4th of July started at 0500 when I awoke from my containerized housing unit and headed to the airfield to stretch for one of the two 5K races being held here in Mosul. Just getting a chance to run in a war zone seems surreal to me, but having organized races every month is beyond belief. But run and struggle with the heat I did. The rest of the day was the same for me, paperwork, meetings, lunch, but all the while sitting and waiting for that afternoon.
Weeks ago, I had challenged the security guys on post to organize a soccer game between the Iraqi Police and some of our U.S. soldiers. His first effort was lame at best, scrounging up some Turkish nationals who are employed here on post. They were nice enough guys but they lacked some technical soccer skills. And, despite our lopsided victory, everyone had fun.
So I kept at the security cell, "how 'bout that game against the IP's (Iraqi Police)?" Finally I got my wish and we learned we would be playing the IP's on the 4th of July. The reaction was fantastic from the rest of my team, a group of soccer-playing soldiers from different battalions in the 172nd Stryker Brigade from Fort Wainwright , Alaska. Without any practice we would celebrate our Independence Day playing soccer against a group of men who try and make everyday here in their country a day closer to their Independence Day. It would be fun.
When the Iraqi Police showed up I was relieved that they were wearing uniforms, were standing tall together and disciplined, but they kept close more like soldiers than an actual team. This meant that the thousands of U.S. soldier man hours spent training the Iraqis was indeed paying off. You could see it in the way they greeted us, and the way they spoke to their coach.
These men had been trained by the best America had to offer; so well, in fact that even in their free time they wore the badge of professionalism. A true testament to those who toiled and trained and a possible prelude to greater things from the Iraqis in the future.
I almost don't even want to mention the game but I must. I will say this, as a fraternal brother of the game of soccer since Ithe age of four years, being on the field in Iraq in front of 200 or so U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and playing in a war zone made me pretty proud.
I wish I could say that all those years of playing helped lift us to victory, but the Iraqi team had a different script that day. They played brilliantly, their passes crisp and their stamina in 110-degree heat amazing. Where we sucked wind, they pushed harder and ran us into the ground in the first half. As we walked off the field at halftime, the Iraqis had handed us our proverbial shorts and led 3-1. The rate of our successful on-field presence was a snail's pace compared to the lightning-quick instincts of the able opponent. We had to regroup.
After I gave a brief pep talk at half time, we seemed to awaken early in the second half, scoring once, then again, equalizing the score at 3-3 with 10 minutes lef to play. But our adrenalin and eagerness to pull down a win in front of our soldiers sputtered with just four minutes left. An Iraqi player beat our goalkeeper and buried a shot in the side net - a final firecracker that we couldn't recover from on the 4th of July.
The whistle blew and both teams celebrated a very competitive and spirited test that meant a lot more than just a game. Our two sides and two cultures showed again that our resolve to build a tighter bond in this war on terror is strengthened each day. I felt lucky and privileged to be out there and apart of it.
And now (you guessed it), the rest of the story. I guess, in a way, I'm glad I procrastinated in getting it written.
One thing that was not lost on me during the game was that these Iraqi policemen we were playing risk their lives each and every day by putting on those bright blue uniform shirts they wear. They are hated by some of their own kind, sometimes by their own blood, and yet they do it to help their country defeat terror and grow out of the shadow of tyranny that Saddam had cast. Their efforts are making a difference, but at a terrible cost. Each day America loses brave soldiers in this war ours, and Iraq's.
Each day you at home read about another roadside bomb or sniper fire that ripped through a vehicle, killing the occupants, inevitably tearing into a family back home, too. But there are always the caveats to the blurb. "Three Iraqi policemen killed when a suicide bomber raced into an intersection," or, "Two Iraqi soldiers were gunned down on their way to a mosque," or "15 Iraqi policemen were killed by a bomb that exploded in front of their headquarters."
These tragedies are meaningless to most because we tend to see the victims as statistics, not people. But I assure you the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police are human. They are as alive as I am. and I have worked and now played next to them for almost a year. And on that day when we were having so much fun celebrating America's independence, I felt sad because I had a horrible feeling that one of these opposing players might not be around for a rematch.
Unfortunately, I was right: I learned this morning that one of those Iraqi policemen was killed yesterday by a suicide car bomber. I don't know which one, or his name, but having shared both the field of battle and the field of play with him, I feel saddened by his loss. And at the same time, a great sense of pride sweeps over me because I know he died doing the things he swore to do, to protect and fight for his countrymen, even if it cost him his life. It was not without reason that our Thomas Jefferson reminded us that the tree of liberty must at times be nourished by the blood of patriots. That is what makes an Independence Day.
Editor's Note: AR Special Correspondent Capt. Gave Scheinbaum started playing soccer at age four, lettered in high school soccer, played three years of NCAA soccer at Marymount University, and has played in¨friendly¨leagues in the United Kingdom and Alaska. He is coming home soon.