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Dennis Buettner and his band of beer buddies want to unite America for a worthy cause: drinking beer.

Buettner is the commissioner of the one entity, he said, that represents all of our country’s 12-ounce curlers: the U.S. Beer Drinking Team.

“There are 90 million beer drinkers in the United States,” he said, “and until we created the team, there was no one group that catered to us” — even though beer drinkers, he said, spend $67 billion annually on their hops-and-barley passion.

However, Buettner said, the word “team” is used loosely, as the U.S. Beer Drinking Team doesn’t necessarily compete in anything.

What it does do is unite.

Currently, the team’s bread and butter is providing lists of team-sponsored weekend events, be it a meet-up at the local Irish pub or a bowling tournament in nearby lanes. Using these meetings, team members can meet Beer Buddies and strengthen the world’s Ale Alliance.

But, Buettner said from his Beer Headquarters in Annapolis, Md., he’s got big plans on tap: Team-sponsored race cars. BeerTV. BeerRadio. And, of course, the Beer Hall of Fame.

But a beer team? Tell your friends about it and see how many can keep a straight face.

And that, really, is how it all began.

“It all started off as a joke,” Buettner said.

Working one night at NASA, he told a co-worker how much he loved beer. “In fact,” he boasted to his colleague, “you can call me captain of the U.S. beer drinking team.”

The colleague shrugged — the body-language equivalent of “Yeah, right.” So Buettner took the joke one step further: he went home and created a fake team Web site.

When they next met, Buettner told his friend to log on to the site. “Man,” his friend said, “you really are the captain of the beer drinking team!”

Buettner told his friend he could join, too. As part of the joke, Buettner added a “membership” option to the site. The colleague joined, they both had a good laugh, and forgot about it.

Until Buettner and his wife returned from vacation a few weeks later. Idly, he checked the Web site and learned that about 450 people from all over America — beer drinkers he’d never met — had joined his joke “team.”

It was time, he realized, to get serious about suds.

Today the team has grown to 45,000 active beer-drinking members, he said, from all 50 states and in every branch of the armed forces.

Being a former sailor, Buettner said he knows the importance of beer in the military. But he also knows too much of it can do about as much for physical readiness as free pizza and a remote control.

So he enlisted the help of his friend, personal trainer and seven-year U.S. Navy SEAL veteran Stew Smith.

Smith crafted workout regimes for beer drinkers. They’re availible — for a price — on the team’s official Web site, www.usbdt.com.

“We want to lose the stigma of the beer belly,” said Smith, the team’s official trainer — and also a beer drinker who prefers darker brews.

“The programs Stew has put together,” Buettner said, “lets you be who you used to be, without giving up who you are.”

A starter tip, Smith said, is to look for beers with fewer calories and lower carbohydrates. His suggestion: Amstel Light.

Buettner said he knows team members are in the services overseas but doesn’t know if they meet regularly for team events. But he’s looking into how to make that happen.

As for allowing teams from other nations, Buettner has simple rule: The U.S. Beer Drinking Team is open to members from all nations that allow the United States to refuel in their air space.

“Don’t expect a French team for quite a while,” he joked.

Buettner said the team has no official beer; nor does it endorse any particular beer. “I’d rather have people drink what they want and debate which is best,” he said.

“It’s all about the best beer, at the best time,” Buettner said of the team’s simple, but enduring, message. “And if you’ve had too much, give up the frickin’ keys.”

In accord with team policy, Buettner won’t divulge his own personal favorite brew but he loves to talk about the greatest beer he’s ever had.

In 1984, he served the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Farragut. His ship was underway; he hadn’t downed a brew in three weeks.

They dropped anchor off the coast of Spain; he and his buddies were stoked about the upcoming liberty time. Then came the bad news: They’d missed the final launch to shore.

Buettner and his two shipmates were pouting about the ship when they ran into the captain.

“What seems to be the problem?” the skipper inquired. Buettner explained.

Without hesitating, the skipper summoned a lieutenant to prepare the captain’s private boat; soon, the sailors were heading for land. But before they left, the captain had one request.

“Buettner,” he said, “there’s some beer aboard the gig; I want it gone by the time you reach the shore.”

“It was the best beer I ever had,” Buettner said.

It was a 12-pack of Busch.

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