By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 7, 2008 - Every major city in the world has its hotspots -- the places people go to set aside work and spend a few good hours with friends. Military leaders work to ensure the deployed environment isn't void of these comforts. One popular place for relaxing on the majority of military bases in Iraq is the Green Beans Coffeehouse. The drinks are nonalcoholic, but the caffeine is enough to recharge the mood and spirit of servicemembers – just like home.
"I'm a Green Beans freak," said Army Sgt. Brandon Bresson of Minneota, Minn., who is stationed at the Talil air base in southern Iraq.
A Green Beans establishment typically is a sign that a military base has been up and running for a good while in Iraq. The newest Green Beans opened its doors at Contingency Operating Base Adder in late October.
Walking into Green Beans is like walking into the heartbeat of a deployed installation. A pair of airmen plays chess as a small group of sailors huddles over their Bibles for a scripture study. A few Marines joke and laugh, and soldiers conduct a work meeting to break the monotony of the office.
"It's our hangout. It's our spot. We love the atmosphere. Every Friday we come here," said Army 2nd Lt. Clifton Williams of Bennettsville, S.C., while celebrating a birthday party at Green Beans with fellow soldiers from the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.
A group of lieutenant colonels meets every Sunday at the Green Beans location here in what they call the "O-5 over 50 Club." Most of them are reservists from different parts of the country, and they share a table and some caffeine as a way of networking for future military career opportunities.
Each of them has his own favorite drink.
"Iced tea," said Army Lt. Col. Greg Henning of his drink of choice, holding one up in emphasis. "They ran out of iced tea a couple of months ago, and I thought it was time to go home. I know this is Iraq, this is war, but [if there is] no iced tea, I'm going home," he joked.
Henning, of Northeast, Pa., is a high school teacher in civilian life, but serves as a member of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq while deployed, helping to professionalize Iraqi security forces.
Henning and a fellow lieutenant colonel agreed there is a vast difference between life in Iraq and life back home, but that having a coffee house helps to keep their lives grounded.
"[I can] kind of see Iraq as the oasis of peaceful time," Henning said, when he reflects at the coffee house. "It's a nice place to hang out. The staff, they're good people. They know their customers and work really hard. We tease them [saying] we'll have to bring them back home when we leave. ... They're like a bartender who knows drinks of a customer."
Henning said that in 2004 this coffee house was nothing but a small trailer, much like the new ones opening in bases throughout Iraq. Now, it has grown to a full-size hangout spot with couches, wooden coffee tables and chairs placed all around the central island.
"It's more like [a coffee house back] home," said Army Lt. Col. Tony Heltsley, of Bowling Green, Ky., also a member of the O-5 Club. "It gives you a chance to withdraw and act a little bit more normal - decompress a little bit."
Every rank, from private to general officer, comes to drink coffee here, whether to start off the morning strong with an espresso, or head into a night shift with an iced latte. In fact, it's not only U.S. servicemembers who enjoy the drinks in Iraq, but other members of the coalition as well.
Two members of the Australian air force sat in the far corner, one holding a vanilla smoothie, the other with a warm latte.
"We were both well aware how you guys deploy in style," said Squadron Leader Scott Geeves. "We consider ourselves very lucky. If we deployed [as an Australian force], we wouldn't have the same comforts."
Geeves and Squadron Leader Jason Collyer both said drinking at Green Beans is like going to any coffee house in Australia.
Of course, Green Beans can't offer everything people might expect on a typical coffee house menu in the United States or even in Australia — such as an "espresso con panna" or any of the cold drinks with whipped cream.
"It's Iraq. I'll take what I can get," said Army Staff Sgt. Jason Molteni of San Jose, Calif., a member of the 445th Civil Affairs Battalion.
Today, Green Beans serves military personnel in more than 50 locations across Afghanistan, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Uzbekistan and Djibouti, Africa.
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)