Bare-bones coffeehouse in Iraq still bears marks of mortar attack
January 19, 2005
FORWARD OPERATING BASE RAMADI, Iraq — Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment have taken a near tragedy and turned it into a steaming cup of comfort.
In late October, shortly after the battalion arrived in Ramadi with the rest of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from South Korea, a single mortar round slammed into the roof of a concrete building in their headquarters compound.
The mortar, which struck in the middle of the day, tore a gaping hole in the concrete and sent shrapnel spraying into the walls.
“Every door around here was blown open, except for the one in my office, which was already open,” said 1st Lt. Ed Kaspar, recalling the attack.
Out of sheer luck, nobody was inside the building — which was used as the battalion’s logistics office — when the round struck. Smoke poured from the room, soldiers recall, and everything inside the office was destroyed.
For weeks, the office sat vacant. But now, the battalion has turned it into what might be the best-stocked coffeehouse on a U.S. base in Iraq — complete with a natural “skylight” where the mortar round hit.
Inside is a trio of salvaged leather chairs, a table made from a wooden cable spool and a bar fashioned out of plywood. Scores of coffee packets, tea bags, coffee pots, grinders and other accessories line a pair of shelves built into the walls. A compact disc player with small speakers plays music, and a shelf above the door is piled with books.
The coffee is largely provided by soldiers who receive it in care packages from the States. The coffeehouse, like so many other small touches that U.S. servicemembers have dreamed up on bases throughout Iraq, is meant to give soldiers a break from the reality of their missions. It’s a far cry from an upscale coffee bar back home, but it does its job, soldiers said.
“We’re getting about 15 people a day that come in here now, but once we really get it going and get some people in here, we’ll open it up to the whole brigade,” said Kaspar, a 32-year-old from Oxnard, Calif.
On Sunday afternoon, Capt. Colin Williams, a 28-year-old civil affairs officer from Owego, N.Y., stopped in for a cup of coffee. Drinking from a white mug emblazoned with the words “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Williams shot the breeze with the others for a few minutes, then went back to work.
If the soldiers get their wish, the budding coffeehouse could see more improvements.
“We’re hoping to get a sponsor to send us some good coffee,” Kaspar said. “And our biggest hope is a cappuccino machine.”