By Army Pfc. J.P. Lawrence
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 8, 2009 - Every night except Sunday, soldiers from America, international guardsmen from East Africa and translators from outside the gates play soccer on Camp Savage, Iraq. They speak in a menagerie of tongues -- English, Ugandan, Swahili, Arabic. But this game -- soccer, football, koura el-khadim -- connects them. Camaraderie rings out in the multilingual sounds of the matches. Wild slides and jukes send gravel skittering across the field and throw dust into the air. Stuttering feet in desperate chase drum syncopated rhythms. The net rustles as the ball courses through its contours before nestling at the bottom near the defeated goalie's feet.
And then there is the jubilant cry of "GO-O-O-O-AL!"
Games always have had the power to bring people together, and it's no different for the soldiers, international guardsmen and Iraqis. Their field is the base parking lot; their boundaries are the bunker walls, the trailer and the Humvee. Their common language is soccer.
George Easirija, an international guardsman, dribbles left, but someone's there. He dribbles right, but no! He stops. He pops the ball into the air and then lofts it through a thicket of limbs to his teammate up ahead, who advances it forward. Goal!
Semuyala Livingstone, another international guardsman, is covered. He spins and passes to a man in front of the goal. He shoots, and the ball ricochets to Frank Tumusiime, who has an open shot. With a long step and swing, Tumusiime boots the ball past the goalie and past the goal and over the barbed-wire fence that separates the base from the dangers outside.
The game is halted until the gate guards retrieve the ball.
Army Spc. Andrew Hoffman, a Tacoma, Wash., native and air-conditioning mechanic with the 308th Brigade Support Battalion, darts around the field, kicking and yelling.
There is quite a bit of shouting, but all involved insist it's good-natured.
"It's all fun and games," said Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Mason, a Rochester, N.Y., native and a mechanic with the 308th BSB. "After the game, we shake hands, just like in the beginning, we all pray before the game."
No one takes themselves too seriously. "At times we play rough, but we don't mean it," Easirija said. "We just play."
In the middle of everything is an Iraqi translator with the nickname "Duck." He said the games have brought him closer to his co-workers.
"When I started playing the first days, I was not a good player. But then there was a great shift for me," Duck said. "They made me feel an important player. That's why they come to my room, they knock on my door, they ask me to play and they insist I play with them."
Some soldiers spend their free time on deployment watching TV or playing video games, but there are worse ways to spend time than connecting with co-workers playing soccer, the global game.
"We get to meet new friends," Mason said.
"New people, new cultures," Hoffman added. "And it's something to do."
(Army Pfc. J.P. Lawrence serves with the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division public affairs office.)