By Norris Jones
BAGHDAD, Aug. 11, 2006 – Bettering the lives of Iraqi youngsters is what Peter Debski says is the best part of his job. He's been involved in overseeing millions of dollars of reconstruction work in and around Baghdad over the past 10 months, including new water and sewer networks, electrical distribution projects, police and fire stations, and primary health care centers. But, he said, "renovating two youth centers and four schools was, most definitely, the most personally rewarding."
"Seeing the joy on the children's faces, knowing we're bringing a little normalcy to their lives, made it all worthwhile," he added. Debski is a project engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Central District. He said he'll always remember the March 25 celebration to mark the re-opening of Al Huriya Youth Center.
"The United States stands with Iraqis as they attempt to improve their community. The various sporting activities that Iraqi children will engage in here offer several useful and timely lessons," he said. "This center will provide activities for youth of all sects and ethnic groups and teach them the benefit of teamwork. The sports that will be played here encourage children to compete but within an established system of rules. Finally, sports will allow us to succeed or fail, not based on who we are or where we come from, but rather on our merits as individuals."
That $442,000 project, financed by the 10th Mountain Division's Commander's Emergency Response Program, included upgrading plumbing and electrical systems, installing air conditioners, repairing and replacing floors, and plastering and painting both interior and exterior walls. In addition, a new basketball and volleyball court was built.
About 1,500 young people are involved in various sporting activities, including wrestling, boxing, soccer, weightlifting, basketball, volleyball and judo, at the center on a daily basis. "The youth center project was selected because the community itself identified it as a top priority. They know how important it is to their community," Debski said. "It's a legacy we're leaving behind as Al Huriya families will use that youth center for years to come."
Debski said he's grateful to be part of the Corps of Engineers' mission in Iraq and for the opportunity to work alongside some incredible Iraqis. "I'm in awe of the courage our Iraqi project engineers demonstrate every day reporting to work and getting the job done," he said. "They're professional, highly educated, care about their work, and know they're making a difference. I admire each and every one of them."
Debski is leaving Iraq this month and will be heading to Jordan to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers there. He and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Julia and Matt. "This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a great experience," Debski said. "I've worked for contractors on construction projects in Antarctica, Pacific islands and Europe, but nothing compares to what we're doing here."