Child athletes have new place to compete

By Pfc. April Campbell , 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

A member of a local martial arts group shows off his skill by jumping over fellow martial artists to kick a piece of wood in the gym during the Suleikh Club Grand Opening March 1. The club, a youth sports center, was renovated through the combined efforts of neighborhood leaders, the Iraqi Army and Coalition forces. Photo by Pfc. April Campbell, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs
A member of a local martial arts group shows off his skill by jumping over fellow martial artists to kick a piece of wood in the gym during the Suleikh Club Grand Opening March 1. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. April Campbell)

SULEIKH, Iraq (March 3, 2008) — As security improves in this Baghdad neighborhood, Iraqi citizens are focusing more attention on the quality of life in their community.

Several Suleikh area residents and leaders, Iraqi Army and Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers attended the grand opening celebration of the Suleikh Club, a youth sports center, March 1.

A procession of area athletic teams, including soccer, basketball, wrestling and martial arts groups, opened the festivities. The different squads marched in, proudly displaying colorful uniforms and team signs. The center will provide a place to practice and compete in their individual athletic disciplines.

Several community leaders including Fikrat Kareem, the neighborhood advisory council leader for the area, and Iraqi Army Lt. Col. Yeheya Rasol, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division, spoke during the event.

“The opening of the club was beautiful,” Fikrat said through an interpreter. “Many citizens came to the (event). They are excited. Life is returning to normal.”

The club, which was originally built in 1957, is again a place where young people can participate in different sports, said Lt. Col. Wilson Shoffner, the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, currently attached to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, MND-B.

The club was shut down in 2005 due to criminal activity in the area.

“We had a couple of different insurgent groups operating here, some of them actually using the Suleikh Club as a base of operations. Obviously, with insurgents operating out of the club, that drove away the reason for its existence,” said Shoffner, a Lawton, Okla., native.

As the Iraqi Army and the local security forces in the area began to work together with Coalition forces, the area’s safety improved.

“The Iraqi Army and Sons of Iraq work together now,” said Yeheya. “We do our duty together to kick all of the terrorists out of Suleikh for the future (of the community).”

The Iraqi Army, the Suleikh neighborhood council and Coalition forces have been working to renovate the club during the last five months, said Shoffner.

The increased safety encouraged area leaders to focus more on reconciliation efforts.

“This club is the beginning of reunification in the area,” said Fikrat.

The youth sports center will connect several different neighborhoods in the area including Rabee’a, Suleikh, Tunnis, Shababkur and Qahira, he added. The youth sports activities bring the different groups in the area together for a common cause.

As reconciliation efforts continue, community centers, such as the Suleikh Club, will have a lasting impact on the Iraqi citizens.

“It was appreciated by the people here,” said Shoffner. “I think it will continue, long after the Coalition forces are gone, to be a place where people come to focus on youth sports center activities.”