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From left, Army Spcs. Jesse Greene and Robert Swanson, and Pfc. Darren "Moose" Ripley relax while having a beer during their four-day rest and recuperation trip to Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar.
From left, Army Spcs. Jesse Greene and Robert Swanson, and Pfc. Darren "Moose" Ripley relax while having a beer during their four-day rest and recuperation trip to Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar — While the Olympic-size swimming pool is one of the main draws for the Fighter Management Pass Program, it’s what’s offered at the Oasis Club and the Top Off Club that have the troops really excited: ice cold beer or wine.

This is the first opportunity in months, maybe a year, that some troops have had to kick back and relax with a cold brew. And what most junior servicemembers like about it is that there’s no bouncer at the door checking IDs.

“Whoever thought of this is a mastermind,” said 20-year-old Army Spc. Robert Swanson, who is assigned to the 293rd Military Police Company, which is currently deployed to Iraq.

Swanson and his fellow 293rd drinking buddies — Spc. Jesse Greene, also 20, and Pfc. Darren “Moose” Ripley, 19 — all like the fact that they could crack a beer every night.

“If I can take a bullet for my country, I should be able to drink a beer,” Greene said.

And the three soldiers have done exactly that, each one of them has been injured in Iraq, and will eventually receive a Purple Heart, Swanson said. That’s the reason their names were put into the mix for those being sent here, they said.

“But enough about that, let’s talk about the beer,” Swanson said with his thick Louisiana drawl.

The beer that’s offered is limited. The troops have their choice between about six different beers, ranging from 12-ounce Budweisers to 16-ounce Holland — Oranjebooms.

The soldiers said they’ve heard some people complain about the taste of the imports, but they don’t mind.

“It doesn’t make a difference [what brand], as long as it does its job,” said Swanson, who prefers the larger imports. “Over here, everyone goes for the size, not the taste.”

And Swanson said that first taste of golden brew was excellent.

“It was like seeing Pam Anderson in real life … it was heaven and I couldn’t resist,” he said.

While troops may be in “heaven” while having a tall, cold one, there is a limit. Army Master Sgt. Ellie Walbridge, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation supervisor for the R&R program, lets them know what that limit is the first night here.

“You’ll be glad to know there is a three-drink minimum,” Walbridge tells the troops, who reply back with cheers. Those cheers, though, quickly turn to moans when she announces “there is also a three-drink maximum.”

Each day between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight, troops can go to one of the clubs and purchase up to three tickets for drinks. Walbridge said the two clubs are linked via computer and the servicemember’s information is stored in the system so each club knows when they’ve had their three-drink maximum.

“I think they should extend the hours and the drink limit to five,” Swanson said. He added that anyone that comes here who has never had a drink before would probably try his or her first here.

While the three soldiers completed their R&R time and headed back to their unit Sunday, Swanson joked that it was going to be hard to let go of his 16-ounce friend.

“I’m probably going to cry,” he said. “It will be like breaking up with a girlfriend.”

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