BAGHDAD — "It doesn't matter where you come from," said Dakar, Senegal, native, Spc. Mour Diop. "I wasn't thinking about 'Hey, they're Iraqis!' I was thinking about, we're all friends when we step on the field."
Paratroopers from 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, and Soldiers from the 45th Iraqi Army Brigade, 11th IA Division, teamed up together to compete in the semi-finals of the Panther Soccer Tournament, Oct. 12 on Combat Outpost Carver, here.
Each U.S. airborne company fielded a team intermingled with their IA counterparts to play against each other in the spirit of camaraderie and partnership.
Diop, a human resources specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, has been playing soccer for more than 30 years and, like most of the other paratroopers, enjoyed the time he spent with his IA counterparts.
"Even though we do missions together, it's nice to get to know [the IA] on a first name basis," said Sgt. Daniel Dukin, an infantry team leader from Queens, N.Y., "Out on mission, it's a part of a job but here when we play together, it's for fun."
The competition was fierce as paratroopers and IA Soldiers from all over southeastern Baghdad came together to play soccer and enjoy lunch.
For Soldiers like Dukin, the impact of the day's events is felt off the field as well.
"It brings us closer together when we go out there on mission together," added Dukin, assigned to Company B. "Next time we see them out in sector; we can share a handshake and talk about the game."
The event organizer and referee, 1st Lt. Paul Wistermayor from Denville, N.J., agreed that the implications of the soccer competition run deeper than just bragging rights.
"It lets us work closer with the IA and the easier it is for them to trust us and listen to us ... then the better we become together as a team," explained Wistermayor. "It's just another step ... another compilation of Soldiers working together."
The tournament is the second one that the paratroopers have held with their IA counterparts and things weren't always as easy.
"The first time we got together, it wasn't as smooth, but four months of working together on and off the field, you can tell they make a good team," added Wistermayor.
In preparation for the tournament, the paratroopers and IA soldiers have been practicing during their downtime at their different bases, which has made a huge difference in their communication and teamwork, explained Wistermayor.
Another difference that has improved relations is that each team had a professional appearance with matching uniforms donated by the program Kicks for Nick, a program set up by the parents of a fallen 82nd paratrooper.
"The uniforms add a little bit of professionalism and that pride factor that's really important," Wistermayor said. "When they wear that uniform again, they can look back on the memories they made with us."
For now, the chance to make more memories isn't over yet. Two of the four teams advanced to the finals Oct. 16 in a stadium at Salman Pak, here. For these soldiers, it really doesn't matter where they are from but that they going there as a team.
This work, Panther soccer tournament garners pride, teamwork, by MSG Mark Burrell, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.