Servicemembers Help to Restore Scout Program in Iraq
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, Mar. 26, 2009 A dedicated group of servicemembers is helping to restore the Scouting movement in Iraq, one child at a time.
Five-year-old Mariem looks to Army Maj. Gary Farley for assurance as she assembles the wheelbase for a model plane at Camp Victory, Iraq, March 21, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
When Iraq embraced the program in 1921, its Boy Scout and Girl Guide program became a member of the World Organization Scouting Movement. However, 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 to a group of dedicated servicemembers who comprise the Victory Base Council. The council is working to encourage adults in Iraq to become more involved and to take over the program that is building toward recertification.
Since the Victory Base Council established a scout camp and
community center here in April 2008, up to 150 servicemembers have come together each Saturday to teach valuable scouting lessons and implement new sporting activities for the area's youth.
Last weekend, elementary-age children learned about heat injuries and 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," Army Maj. John Crawson, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said. Last week, about 80 children and more than 40 adults turned out to play baseball, he said.
Army Maj. Ken Broussard, the environmental science officer from the 1st Cavalry Division’s surgeon's office, 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," Broussard said. "You also need to make sure they drink plenty of water.” On cue, one of the 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. 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 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 [the children] accept me and have grown quite fond of the activities that we do," said Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Kelly Greene, a supply noncommissioned officer with Company A, 301st Military Intelligence Battalion, as she helped with the children's artwork.
"I've been doing this since September and it's a good outlet for me," said Greene, also the Girl Guide program officer for Victory Base Council.
One table over, Mariem, 5, concentrated on the wheels of her model plane as Army Maj. Gary Farley, an Iraqi Ground Forces Command Military Transition Team advisor for Multinational 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.
"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," he said.
Amid the shouts from children 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 firefighters from the 447th Civil Engineer Squadron 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 children’s faces as they ran around and tried to avoid the colorful water balloons zipping through the air.
Army Sgt. Kassidy Fitzwater, a multichannel system operator with the 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was 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 Florida National Guard member, was today's event coordinator.
"The water balloons were our back up if the fire truck wasn't able to show up," she said. "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.
"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.”
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke serves with Multinational Division Baghdad.)