News: Basketball game unites U.S., Iraqis
Story by Pfc. Jessica Luhrs-Stabile
KIRKUK, Iraq - When the players for the Iraqi Emergency Services Unit ‘Lions’ basketball team stepped onto the court, June 12, in the Mountain Warrior Gym, Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq, for a friendly basketball game against their ‘Dragon’ partners in Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga., it was clear they already had the advantage over their ‘Battle Boar’ partners.
To beat the ‘Dragons’ on their own court leadership of the ‘Lions’ called some friends of the Iraqi Olympic basketball team and other professional teams around Kirkuk to play.
“We [‘Lions’] told the ‘Dragons’ from the beginning we would defeat them at basketball just like we did at every other sport,” said Col. Orhan Khalen Jumma, commander of 2nd Battalion ESU.
The ESU has recently beaten their partners at all sports including ping-pong, wrestling, soccer and now basketball.
It isn’t about who wins or who loses, it’s about building a relationship that does not revolve around checkpoints and key leader engagements, said Capt. Gary Whidden, native of Sebring, Fla., commander of the ‘Dragons’ and a forward for the team.
Orhan agreed with his partner, saying building relationships is the most important.
The ‘Lions’ and ‘Dragons’ were able to interact with each other and with civilians, which is vital, he continued.
According to the Soldiers who played it does more than build a relationship.
“It eases a lot of stress built up from working,” said Spc. Carlos Hayes, a Little Rock, Ark., native and a ‘Dragon’ mechanic.
Following the basketball game the ‘Dragons’ awarded Orhan and his team a trophy and certificates for winning the game then enjoyed a celebratory lunch.
Whidden ended the celebration by inviting his partners out for another competition.
“It is great to bring out the competition in the Soldiers and we look forward to our next event, maybe we’ll find a sport we can beat the ESU at,” he joked.