Oktoberfest offers ultimate R&R for troops who’ve served in Iraq
MUNICH, Germany — For a soldier who’s been serving in Iraq, going to Oktoberfest is one way to find out what he’s been missing.
“It’s nice to be able to walk around outside without being shot at or mortared,” said Army Sgt. Jason Bowen. “And the women here, the women are a big thing. The beer, too.”
Oktoberfest, the world’s biggest beer party, started Saturday with thousands of people flooding the festival ground even before the first keg was tapped. The vast majority of the international crowd was German, but at least two busloads of American troops and their families made the trip.
Bowen, of Fayetteville, Ark., was on 14-day Rest and Recuperation leave from Baghdad and his unit, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, 39th Brigade Combat Team, Arkansas Army National Guard.
He took a bus to Munich from Aviano, Italy, with his brother, Air Force Staff Sgt. Corey Bowen, an airman with the 31st Operations Support Squadron.
Corey Bowen said his unit would deploy to Iraq this winter. Jason Bowen could tell his older brother that Oktoberfest — perfect weather in the 70s, dancing and smiling people, and cold beer — had little resembled life downrange.
Jason Bowen was asked how many beers he planned to drink, as he waited for the beer tents to open.
“I’m a very picky drinker,” he said. “So if I find one I like … a lot.”
Oktoberfest runs through Oct. 3 and is expected to draw 6 million people. Munich, the capital of Bavaria in southern Germany, has hosted the festival almost every year since 1810.
Not far away, a group of soldiers from Baumholder, Germany, impatiently waited in the crowd for the tapping of the first keg.
“I got my hand, I got my mouth, I got my stomach,” said Pfc. Jason Cain, making a beer-drinking motion. “I’m ready to rock and roll.”
Cain, of Roanoke, Va., and the 47th Forward Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, and his mates left Baumholder at 3 a.m. Saturday for the six-hour bus ride to Munich.
The soldiers said they returned from Iraq in July after deployments ranging from six to 10 months. On Saturday, Cain and five others were not warriors but just faces in a sea of party-goers.
“Usually this time of year, we’re in Grafenwöhr, training in the field,” said Sgt. Sylvia Hughes of Clarksville, Tenn., and the 47th FSB. “So we don’t usually get to go to the fest.”
This year was different. Not only did they go to Oktoberfest, the soldiers said, but they also had a different appreciation for what they missed while in Iraq and also what they fought for.
“This makes you proud of what you do,” Cain said, “to see all these people having a good time.”
They looked casual in civilian clothes and baseball caps, but soldiers are soldiers. Sgt. Hughes said she was determined that the troops made it back to the bus on time Saturday night for the ride home.
“It’s just like combat,” Cain added. “Never leave a soldier behind.”