Monday, November 30, 2009

Oregonians won't let go of creature comforts

Oregon's soldiers have given up a lot on their deployment to Iraq. Family, friends, Oregon's beautiful weather (well... maybe not right now).

But coffee? No self-respecting Oregonian is going to give up their favorite cup of joe.

And according to Spc. Beth Gorenc, soldiers with Charlie Co., 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment took having their favorite coffee one step further.

They run their own coffee house.

Above: Oregon National Guard MEDEVAC soldiers from 1st Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, sort donated baked goods while enjoying coffee at their volunteer-run coffee shop, Cascade Coffee. The cafe is located in the MEDEVAC compound at Joint Base Balad. While the coffee is free to customers, the shop operates on donations. Photo by Spc. Beth Gorenc.

Deployed service members and civilian contractors were able to enjoy pleasures from home thanks to the Company C, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment soldiers stationed at Joint Base Balad, and the coffee bar they built.

Situated in the MEDEVAC compound at Joint Base Balad, Cascade Coffee served the MEDEVAC unit, Air Force and Army personnel who worked at the nearby base hospital and other service members and civilians who visited the compound.

"Running the coffee shop is a tradition here handed down from MEDEVAC unit to MEDEVAC unit," said Chief Warrant Officer Vince Almberg, a 158th MEDEVAC pilot from Independence, Ore.

The shop was located in a different area of JBB when 7th Battalion arrived, but they moved it to their compound to continue the tradition of the MEDEVAC-run cafe.

After gaining possession of the MEDEVAC tradition, soldiers worked together to augment the interior of their inherited getaway to ensure it was a comfortable and desirable atmosphere. Everything from hand-built shelves and cabinets to unit patches and coins to enlarged personal photographs, decorated Cascade Coffee.

"It provides and environment for people to come in, relax and forget about everything for a while," said Almberg.

Unlike other coffee shops around JBB, the 158th's coffee house, Cascade Coffee, was operated solely by volunteers.

"People come in here and work in their free time," said Almberg. "They can be here for 15 minutes or hours, there's no time limit."

Although the MEDEVAC coffee shop has been at JBB since 2003, 7th Battalion was the first to incorporate Air Force volunteers to help run it.

"We have a lot of nice, friendly Air Force people who worked hard here," said Almberg.

Army and Air Force volunteers served an average of 50 to 100 people per day, but their hard work would not be possible without the supplies donated to the shop.

When the 158th began their part of the shop legacy, they fell in on limited supplies and equipment pieces.

But 1st Lt. Craig Sheley, an Albany, Ore., resident, MEDEVAC operations officer and officer in charge of the coffee shop, said due to assistance from coffee shops, family members and organizations back home, Cascade Coffee supplied caffeine cravers with multiple name brand choices of coffees, lattes, espressos and smoothies.

"We run on donations only," Sheley said of receiving and distributing coffee goods.

Since Cascade Coffee received their goods free of charge, they distributed them free of charge as well, although monetary donations from customers are appreciated.

"All the donated money we receive goes toward a morale, welfare and recreation fund for the MEDEVAC unit," said Sheley. "It also goes to help buy and stock items like hats, T-shirts, coffee mugs and cigars that people can buy in the shop."

Many donations surpassed coffee necessities and funding for the shop to provide entertainment for the troops. The shop was outfitted with a projection system to provide a home theater feel, board games and reading material.

Chief Warrant Officer William Anderson, a Canby, Ore., resident and MEDEVAC pilot, said that visiting the Cascade Coffee was a welcomed break during his long shifts.

"You're on for 48 hours at a time sometimes," he said. "It's nice to go there and relax. It's a slice of home. The walls are covered with Oregon posters and people send newspapers from home."

Since Cascade Coffee was such a success as a morale booster and comfortable getaway from everyday duties during their Iraq deployment, the MEDEVAC unit intends to take part of the shop back to Oregon and start a unit coffee shop there.

But they also plan to keep Iraq tradition going by donating their cafe to their replacement MEDEVAC unit here.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department Social Media Manager

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