Iraqi kids play American games at JBB

Story and photos by Sgt. Chad Menegay
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Service members threw an American-style party June 19 with swimming, movies, video games, board games, burgers, potato chips and ice cream for 77 Iraqi children at Morale, Welfare and Recreation-East of Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Defense Department personnel, who work with locals in the villages that surround JBB to build communities and help the sick and injured, have gained enough trust with parents to gather children from Albu Hassan, Albu Abbas and Al Bakir for the “Kids Day.”

Capt. Tara Opielowski, with the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron coordinated the event and said she filled her quota of one volunteer for each child within two minutes of her request. She still had to turn away about 400 people.

Opielowski said she kept the itinerary very generic.

“I wanted them to come here and interact with service members,” she said. “We told the volunteers to stay with (their respective) child, but to let them do what they want and have fun.”

Most of the children started their day outside, playing in an above-ground pool and kicking around a soccer ball. Boys wrestled around and girls drew with chalk on the sidewalk. Service members demonstrated how to hula hoop and skip rope. Inside kids listened to music, took pictures, blew bubbles, played billiards, cards, table tennis and video games

“I love seeing them getting so excited and happy to get into the base,” said Spc. Nazha Likrik, a translator with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group and an Essouira, Morocco, native.

DoD personnel said since Kids Day began in 2008 at JBB, the concept has spread to other bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. A previous event at JBB drew 219 kids.

“Some (children) have been here six or seven times already,” Likrik said. “They already know the place and what to do. They already know the processing at the gate.”

Opielowski said the main reason for the event was for the children and service members to have fun, but it was also to build a positive relationship with the Iraqi communities that surround JBB.

“The kids are the future,” she said. “This is when it’s important to make the impact on them, and show we’re here to help not hurt. I think it’s good for the parents to see that we’re good people, and we want to do good things.”

 

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An Iraqi boy kicks a soccer ball around with service members June 19 during Kids Day at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Service members entertained 77 children, ages 6-14, with American games, food and music. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Chad Menegay)

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Air Force Senior Airman Claribel Najera-Torres, with the 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron helps an Iraqi girl blow bubbles June 19 during Kids Day at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Service members entertained 77 children, ages 6-14, with American games, food and music. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Chad Menegay)

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Capt. Tara Opielowski, with the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, reads to an Iraqi girl June 19 during Kids Day at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Service members entertained 77 children, ages 6-14, with American games, food and music. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Chad Menegay)