Photo Captions: 1st Lt. Paul Wistermayer, from Denville, N.J., takes a header in the opening round of the Combined Forces Football Tournament, a Baghdad-wide tourney featuring teams made up of American and Iraqi players. Jamaica native, Pfc. Mark Skeen, assigned to 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, moves the ball, flanked by defenders.

Story and Photos by Sgt. Joshua Risner/Multi National Division-Baghdad

BAGHDAD – Dust clouds form as American and Iraqi footballers compete under a cloudy sky in the community of Salman Pak, here, May 10. However, this is not a national rivalry grudge-match; both teams are made up of Americans and Iraqis.

The game is a preliminary round of the Combined Forces Football Tournament, according to Maj. Paul Salmon, operations officer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. “This is the first round,” the Philadelphia native said. “The second round will be played in Baghdad.”

Soldiers from 1st Bn., 505th PIR, teamed with Iraqi Army Soldiers of the 46th Iraqi Army Division, faced off against Soldiers of 1st Bn., 82nd Field Artillery Regiment and the 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi National Police Division.

While it might have been easier to host the game on a Forward Operating Base, the match was held out in sector, allowing the local populace the opportunity to come out and watch, Salmon added. “This is an opportunity to exhibit the security that has been established,” he said. “It’s telling them we’re getting to a point of normalcy with the [Iraqi Security Forces] taking a positive stance of making sure this is a better place.”

An extensive information campaign preceded the event to ensure public awareness, according to Salmon. “We got with our Iraqi partners to establish a vision of how to do it,” he said. “We put up banners, did some soliciting and gave out trinkets and soccer balls to the kids.”

The advertising paid off and the spectators showed up in droves, from American and Iraqi Security Forces to local leaders. “There’s a band, there’s dancing, there’s children and sheiks and no one’s scared,” said 1st Lt. Paul Wistermayer, the assistant intelligence officer for HHC, 1st Bn., 505th PIR. “It says a lot about where we are and where this country’s going.”

Being on an integrated team has produced results with overall partnership, according to Wistermayer. “At first it was hard with the language barrier, but we gelled after a couple of practices,” he said. “It’s helped us become closer to the Iraqis in general, because we have something in common besides training and security now.”

The game itself was a very physical match, with both teams competing hard for the win. The crowd cheered for their team and booed when calls from the officials didn’t go their way. A three-piece band pepped up the crowd when the home team scored a goal, sparking a dance-fest with the 46th IA Div., along with local Sons of Iraq.

In the end, however, the visiting team took away the victory, 3-2.

“It was a good game and of course, the field artillery won,” quipped Spc. Daniel Brindell, from St. Louis, assigned to 1st Bn., 82nd FA Regt. “I never thought I’d be out here without a weapon, playing soccer with the Iraqis.”

The football match showed that a sense of normalcy is indeed returning to war-torn Iraq. The Beautiful Game, as it is called, is giving the Coalition force and the ISF another opportunity to strengthen their bond and improve their working relationship.