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Not your average Joe

From rations to lattes, coffee remains a staple of Army life.

By Spc. Michael Blalack

1/25th SBCT PAO


Staff Sgt. Christopher Oleskiewicz, Brigade Air Space Manager for the Brigade Troops Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigace Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, shares his desk with a coffee mug.    

With the onset of an interior Alaska winter at Fort Wainwright, the warming effects of the morning cup of coffee are as important as its caffeine content.


“It’s the first step of a long day,” says Sgt. Michael Dominguez, a forward observer with B Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, as he sips his triple vanilla latte.


U.S. Soldiers and coffee have been complimenting and completing each other almost since the beginning of the United States.


On October 25, 1832, when President Andrew Jackson signed an executive order replacing the allowance of alcohol in troop rations with coffee and sugar he made official a trend that had been brewing since America’s war for independence. With Britain’s tea tax being seen as unfair, Americans had begun drinking coffee first as an act of passive insubordination and continued after the war as a way to set themselves apart from their tea-drinking British cousins.


The relationship between Soldiers and their coffee deepened during the Civil War. Many Soldiers considered the issue of coffee and sugar the most important part of their rations. One Civil War Soldier, John D. Billings, described coffee’s importance to foot Soldiers in his memoir “Hard Tack and Coffee.”


"What a Godsend it seemed to us at times!,” Billings wrote. “How often after being completely jaded by a night march ... have I had a wash, if there was water to be had, made and drunk my pint or so of coffee and felt as fresh and invigorated as if just arisen from a night's sound sleep!"


In those days, Soldiers had to grind the issued beans and make their own coffee. It would be a while before the proliferation of coffee shops offering dozens of flavors and twists to the average “cup of joe” would put an end to the daily grind.


Even though the first coffee shop was opened in Turkey in 1475, it wasn’t until the advent of specialty coffee franchises in the late ‘80s that grabbing a cup of coffee on the way to the office instead of making it when you got there, or before you left home, really took off.


And it wasn’t long before military bases were getting their own cafes and kiosks to conveniently provide U.S. troops with their daily dose of coffee. The opening of the Starbucks on Edwards Air Force Base in California merited Base Commander Maj. Gen. David Eichhorn’s participation in the ribbon cutting ceremony.


The opening of the Fort Wainwright Starbucks in April of 2009 didn’t receive quite as much fanfare. But its importance to the Soldiers who depend on the morning latte to find their way to work is obvious.


“I come in here almost every day,” says Pvt. Andrew Mesker, a vehicle commander in B Company, 1-24th. “On bad days – twice.”


But as important as the coffee is, it’s not the only reason for many Soldiers daily pilgrimage to the shrine of espresso. The baristas add a human element that a boring glass and plastic coffee maker just can’t provide.


“They’re so friendly here,” says Pvt. John Goodwin, an infantryman in A Company, 1-24th. “I get a sense of home when I come in here. The smell brings me back to childhood. Not only that but they take time to talk and are genuinely interested in your day.”


Nikki Hinckley started working at the Fort Wainwright Starbucks in February.


“We really enjoy helping these Soldiers get their day started,” Hinckley said. “We know most by name or drink and we try to have it ready when we see them walk in.”


Cpl. Brian Hull and Pfc. Steven Wall, both intelligence analysts with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, come in a couple times a day.


“I talk to these people more than I talk to my friends back home,” says Wall.


“He does,” Hinckley agrees. “I know his life story – we’re Facebook friends …”


“They always go out of their way to talk for a while,” says Hull. “Coming in here always brightens my day.”