Not your typical hipster coffee joint: Guardsmen deployed to Iraq open a spot for lattes and more
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 8, 2018
Perhaps it’s fitting that a group of Oregon National Guard soldiers transformed a second-hand espresso machine at Iraq’s Camp Taji Military Complex into their own coffee shop that serves lattes and other drinks.
Thanks to shows like “Portlandia” and other popular depictions of the Pacific Northwest, Oregonians may be known as coffee snobs. But the soldier’s cafe, located in an office space in the 449th Combat Aviation Brigade’s work area and staffed by helicopter ambulance pilots from the Oregon Guard’s 189th Aviation Regiment, is not the typical hipster coffee joint.
The donation-based Dustoff Coffee does boast wall art, coffee mugs, an assortment of snacks and a friendly barista, according to an Army news release. There’s also an old, worn leather couch where troops can relax with friends or a donated paperback.
The aviation brigade is part of the U.S.-led coalition helping build up Iraq’s security forces and aiding their fight to eliminate the remnants of the Islamic State in the country, now mainly along the Iraq-Syria border. The Oregon National Guard unit flies HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, providing lifesaving care to forces in the fight.
Back home, the Salem-based unit conducts aeromedical evacuations, search and rescue, and fire suppression operations throughout the state. It’s deployed several times with operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Middle East.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan Amato said it’s a tradition for Oregon guardsmen to set up or take over a coffee shop on every deployment, according to the Army’s news release.
“Spc. Toby Sewell and I are actually from Oregon, assigned to Company G, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment, so we are all coffee connoisseurs,” Amato said.
The espresso machine was already at Taji when the soldiers arrived and the idea for a coffee shop began percolating when a unit that was rotating out offered to sell it.
“I was like, ‘Well, there are a few things we could pay for around here if we started a coffee shop,’” said 1st Lt. Peter Bendorf, a medevac pilot, according to the news release. “It would make all of our lives a little bit easier.”
The five medevac pilot-baristas who staff it also had to learn how to use the espresso machine and make drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos and mochas. Google, YouTube videos and taste tests helped them perfect their recipes.
“We definitely made all the wrong drinks to figure out what concoctions and ratios actually worked,” Capt. Ashley Morris said, according to the news release.
Dustoff Coffee collects funds in a donation jar and uses them to help boost morale and build unit cohesion, like paying for internet access for those who can’t afford it in their rooms or hosting barbecues for U.S. and coalition troops.
Still, it’s not their only job, so the shop’s hours can be somewhat random.
“We still run medevac,” Amato said in the news release. “We are open from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closing the shop if we have missions or meetings.”