13 February 2013

Places Downrange Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Unless you're regularly danger-close to bad guys and mortar rounds, life downrange is like a combination of high-school and medium-security prison. People make jokes about getting institutionalized: Wake, chow, work, gym, sleep, wash, rinse, repeat.

As with any game that half-mental, people quickly start devising their own mental-wellness strategies. Some people hit the weight rooms twice a day. Some people fall pray (you heard me) to magical thinking: "If we wave this ladle over the convoy, we won't get hit." Still others take up one the few vices they still have available, such video games or fine cigars, and pursue it to passionate excess.

One soldier's war zone, after all, is another's designated smoking area.

On my own 2003 deployment, with the Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.), we gathered together to drink with the representatives of our allied nations on so-called "Whiskey Wednesdays." (General Order No. 1 was decidedly not in effect—as we liked to say, we were on a ... diplomatic mission.) The evenings started in a back-patio area of one of our decades-old temporary trailers. We called it the "Bull Pen," and painted our beloved bovine patch on practically every available surface. Beer lamp went on at 1700 hours, and was doused (soused?) by about 2100.

When a Michigan Army National Guard unit moved in after us, the "Vikings" quickly rechristened the Bull Pen as "Vahalla."

Regardless of the choice of one's poisons, or the name of one's dive, the point is to have an excuse—an excuse to get together, to shuck and jive, and complain and make fun, and pretend that being away from home and blowing stuff up is a normal state of affairs.

When I try to remember my buddies at our happiest, I always return to these ritualized bull-sessions, wearing funny hats and issuing silly proclamations and telling stories that were All True and Really Happened.

I count myself lucky to have revisited that magic during my brief Afghan sojourn in 2011.

Mil-blogger and citizen-soldier-journalist Mike Tomberlin was recently elected president of the "Tiki Hut," as well as the Camp Phoenix Chapter of the Tali-banned Cigar Aficionado Club. He also recently pinned on a Combat Action Badge ("CAB"), taking enough time and Internet-ink to make this punny headline: "Catching a CAB in Afghanistan." While holding court, he wears a custom Alabama Pakol hat.

In a recent blog post, Tobmerlin writes:
[The Tiki Hut] has have provided stress relief, an escape, a pick-me-up and a hideout all in one for many of us here. Friendships have been formed there and camaraderie reigns on any given night. All ranks, a variety of nationalities and a cast of characters count themselves among regulars there.

It is truly a special place. Think about the bar from the T.V. show "Cheers" and put that in a war zone, replacing the booze with cigars.
With a little help from the creator of the Doctrine Man!! cartoon, I sent a couple of collector "Baghdad Cigar Club" poker chips to Tomberlin last year. The cartoonist was downrange himself at the time, but in Iraq. On his Facebook page earlier this week, Doctrine Man!! put in a tobacco plug for Cigars for Warriors, an outfit that sends care packages to troops downrange.

(Bonus tip: Doctrine Man!! "Blue Falcon," "Bright Idea Fairy," and "Baghdad Cigar Club" mugs are currently 25 percent off at his "Lair of Mystery" Zazzle store. Use code "LOVEMESALE25.")

If you're giving up smoking for Lent—or even if you're not—you can donate any cigars, cigar-related items (cutters, lighters, humidors), or money to the address below. You can also donate via PayPal via the organization's website.
Cigars For Warriors
115 Daisy Street
Inglis, Fla. 34449-9563
From ashes we come, and from ashes we shall return. It's up to us to live and be well in the spaces in between.

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