News: ACB soccer teams prepare for tournament
Story by Spc. Alun Thomas
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — The ball flies through the air as two players from opposing sides jump to head it, both falling hard onto the dirt surface in a crumbled heap.
When the ball reaches the ground, it falls conveniently for another player to score, but before he can shoot he is hacked down unmercifully by a defender from the opposition.
A penalty is awarded. Tempers flare. Someone is elbowed in the jaw.
And this is just a scrimmage.
The game was practice for the troops with 615th Aviation Support Battalion and 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, both of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, as they prepared for the Camp Taji soccer tournament, but for both sides, the game represents the passion of the world's most popular game.
"I've been playing since I was seven years old and played at the youth level, high school level and club level before I came on active duty," said Maj. Marcus Gengler, from Ontario, Calif., commander, Company B, 615th ASB. "Since then I've always enjoyed watching and playing the game as often as I can."
Playing in Iraq is a unique experience, especially on the dirt surfaces.
"The only time I've played on a dirt field is here in Iraq," Gengler said. "The style of play changes because of it and most of our American players aren't familiar with the way some of our international teams play here at Camp Taji."
Gengler said he enjoys being part of the 615th team and feels the Bladeslingers represent themselves well every time they step on the field.
"We showed ourselves very well during the first tournament earlier this year and we were the only American team left standing," Gengler said. "I know that we'll put another good team out for this upcoming tournament."
Like Gengler for the 615th, Michael Benjamin, coach for the 4-227th, said he too has a lifelong devotion to soccer, having grown up playing in leagues in his native Iraq and the U.S.
"All my life I have played soccer, even when I was 18 years old and still in Iraq," Benjamin said, having spent the last 40 years in the U.S. "Soccer is very popular in Iraq and you have to be in top shape. I played in one of the major leagues here, but unfortunately I had to leave the country."
Benjamin went on to coach teams in the U.S. for many years and said he wanted to expand his circle further by coaching a team of Soldiers in Iraq.
"I did a good job coaching back home so I wanted our Soldiers here to have a team, get together and have a good time," Benjamin said. "Soldiers here are under pressure and I want them to have some relief so I volunteered to do this."
Benjamin said he was pleased with the progress of his team, who beat the 615th ASB narrowly, 5-4, in the scrimmage.
"The team looks very good and we have some excellent players, it's just a matter of playing as team," Benjamin said. "This was our first scrimmage game and I have a feeling we will do well in the tournament."
"I don't want to see any injuries, but I think we will be ranked near the top."