Sunday, March 10, 2024

My Memory of the War in Iraq 20 years later: March 2024

 “From: Whitehead, Michael (USA)

    Sent: Saturday, March 6, 2004 7:55 am

    Subject: Iraqi hoops

    During my last three days at CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] in Hillah KBR [Kellog, Brown, & Root, our life support contractor] set up a basketball tournament. 3-on-3, half-court, 12 points or 15 minutes, whichever came first. A regular basket was one point, a three pointer counted two. The tournament had 16 teams, double elimination, which meant we had to play ten games a day for three days. Each day lasted almost three and a half hours. I refereed every game. For the first and hopefully only time in my life I wore a pistol while I was a basketball referee. I didn't need to draw my pistol during the three days, but a few times I felt like it.

    We had five Gurkha teams, two Iraqi teams and the rest were Americans with a few Aussies thrown in. At my suggestion, they let the Iraqi workers on the compound watch the tournament. Each team was limited to four total players. Mr. Gfeller's PSD had two teams, the MP's entered a team, Operations had a team and KBR had two teams.

    “KBR set up lights, a mobile microphone for me, and played music during the intermissions. A large number of fans turned up every day. The Iraqis cheered loudly for their fellow Iraqi teams, but shifted to the KBR favorite team when their comrade teams fell out. Only a few of the Gurkhas understood English well, and almost none of the Iraqis did. I had a hard time explaining the rules at times.

    Of course, those that best understood the rules also knew how to break them. The Gurkha and Iraqi games were exciting, sedate and polite affairs. The Americans played street basketball. Not all of my calls were popular. I heard irate protests from fans and players alike. Although I did not use the technical foul (foul shots did not play a part in the tournament), I did take advantage of the three foul limit per player. In one wild game, I fouled out five of the eight players on the two teams. Some people were MAD at me.”

“The favored KBR team won, to the delight of the Iraqi KBR workers. The fans went wild, and the KBR foreman, who played on the winning team, leaped on to the bed of a pickup loaded with Iraqis, held up his trophy, and jumped up wildly with them in celebration. It was a wild moment, where sports brought everyone together. We had a good time.

    I was exhausted. The next morning I left for Kuwait.”

Excerpt From

Messages from Babylon

Michael Whitehead

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