Friday, September 19, 2003


3/124 Infantry is attached to the 1st Brigade, 1AD.
In a city caught in a cycle of violence and crushed expectations, the al-Maghrib Community Center may well be remembered as evidence of how a vanquished and occupied Baghdad stood back on its feet - with the help of soldiers from Florida.

Until the April 9 ouster of Saddam Hussein, the center was a sleazy night spot frequented mainly by men. In May, the 3rd Battalion, 124th Regiment of the Florida National Guard heeded the call of local residents and began the arduous task of transforming the place into a community center for men, and women, boys and girls of the neighborhood.

After spending a total of $5,000, the National Guardsmen, whose unit is based in Panama City, invited the United Nations Childrens' Fund, or UNICEF, and the Norwegian Church Service to chip in to complete the project. The soldiers, however, continued to guard the facility while the work was going on.

On Thursday, months of hard work finally bore fruit, when the head of the U.S.-backed al-Maghrib District Council, retired diplomat Amer Nagi, officially opened the center.

Some two dozen men from the 3rd Battalion, 124th Regiment took part in the celebrations, mingling freely with residents, posing for photographs and shaking hands with youngsters.

The residents who showed up for the occasion included men, children and women in abbayas, a flowing black robe, and head scarves - hallmarks of Iraq's conservative Muslim society. Women in Western clothes, like jeans and skirts that barely reached below the knees, also attended.

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