During my deployment to Iraq, I volunteered a few times with the “Boy and Girls Scouts”. It was a welcomed break from my norm. I am not sure if they were true scouts but they had a lot of support from both organizations back home. The children belonged to the soldiers of an Iraqi Special Forces unit, which was housed within our post. The soldiers brought their wives and children to live with them on post. If they lived off post, they were targeted for kidnappings that often ended in the deaths of their family members. Most families lived in an individual house or duplex and the community even a small store run by a Kurdish family.
The Iraqi children varied in age and gender. They were always so happy to see us as got out of our vehicles. Most of them would fight over who got to hold our hands. We would do normal scout type activities such as arts and crafts, playing games, and playing sports. Soccer was always a favorite. Tons of care packages from American scout troops would help facilitate the activities. The children’s faces would light up when they got small presents like hair ties or stickers. Sometimes they would get new clothes or shoes, which was desperately needed. Most kids wore clothes and shoes that were at least two sizes too small. It was during these times that they got to embrace what remained of their childhood before being thrust into an early adulthood (an unfortunate consequence of living in Iraq).
They were always surprised to see an Arabic speaking soldier like me. Most of my language education provided me with an Egyptian or Levant dialect so the kids always enjoyed teaching me Iraqi specific words. It’s hard to describe to non-Arabic speakers but Iraqi dialect is much more sharper sounding than the bubbly sounding Egyptian dialect. The girls would quiz me on the words every time I would come back. If I got a word wrong they would make a “tisk tisk” sound while shaking their finger followed by some giggles.
Now with kids of my own, I remember those faces and hope that they are still alive and well today. When I looked at them I saw some hope for the next generation. During the short time we shared, they got to enjoy the simple things that every kid finds joy in. But reality is that they have probably been affected some how by the harsh living in Iraq. Losing family members or even their own lives. Living in poverty. Forced into early marriages. Have they themselves been drawn into the fight against ISIS or recruited by them? So many possibilities to think about. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever know their fate.