By Army Sgt. Whitney Houston
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 12, 2009 - A sports center reopened here Jan. 9 after an extensive refurbishing project that coalition forces and Iraqis undertook to improve the impoverished Qahira community, a Shiia enclave in the Iraqi capital's Adhamiyah district. "When we took over this area, we assessed all of the areas to see what nonlethal missions we could conduct to fight off a lethal threat. And what we did was target an area that we thought needed the most help," said Army Capt. John Spencer, who serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Spencer said Qahira is an important neighborhood because it had a substantial militia at one time that campaigned against the government of Iraq. The refurbished Talaba Sports Center, he explained, will have a huge impact on the community and will help to counteract propaganda.
"If you create just a little bit of happiness for [the neighborhood's residents], you'll create a lot of happiness within the community, which shows forward progression toward a better life," he said.
The renovation was a huge undertaking that was funded through the Commanders Emergency Relief Program, with manpower provided by area residents, Spencer said. The $187,300 project included repairing the gym floor, roof, stadium seating, kitchen, bathrooms, locker rooms, light fixtures, electrical systems and the parking area. The work also included painting and cleaning the inside and outside walls, as well as other cosmetic improvements.
Among the facility's amenities, Spencer said, is a basketball court that also can be used as an indoor soccer arena. It is one of two gyms in the area that measures up to Olympic standards.
The sports center will be used predominantly by six schools in the area, and is open to children of all ages. It has been well received by residents of the area.
"There are approximately 80,000 residents that live in Qahira, and this is the only sports complex in the area," said Muhammad Madlom, the Neighborhood Advisory Council chairman. "So, it is a good achievement for coalition forces – and it is good they focus on and care about sports for youth, because these guys are the future of this country. It will have a huge psychological impact on them as well as influence them for the good as they participate in sports."
(Army Sgt. Whitney Houston serves in Multinational Division Baghdad in the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)