When we deployed to Iraq we took cooking gear with us. Each platoon had a box of pots and pans in which meals could be prepared. And except for a single occasion, the only thing that got used was the coffee pot.

We didn’t take coffee with us, but the first time someone went into the small town nearby, coffee was purchased. After that, we settled into a predictable routine. We were usually up before sunrise, and someone would start the small gas fueled stove that heated the tent. Water was poured into the coffee pot, coffee grounds put into the basket, and soon the smell of coffee flowed through the tent. One pot wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t long before another joined it.

Coffee has been a tradition in the military probably since before the Civil War. In letters and diaries from that period, the word “coffee” is often times used more than any other word. Union soldiers were given 36 pounds of coffee a year as their ration. By the reverse, the average soldier of the Confederacy had little or no coffee. When there was no fighting going on, there were numerous instances of soldiers from both sides meeting to trade. A common trade was coffee for tobacco, something the Confederacy had plenty of. Coffee was so important, one soldier writing home lamented that they were low on supplies, moral, but he really pointed out the lack of coffee. His comment was “How can you soldier without coffee?”

So in that grand tradition, we always kept the coffee pot going when we could. We’d dress, get our gear on, and fill our cups. Cream and sugar, black, sweetened, we got our coffee that way we liked it. Then we took our cups out into the cool morning and took our places in our fox holes or HUMVEEs. The steam rising from the cups was always nice. The smell brought memories of being  back home.

And the morning cup of Joe made “soldiering” because it helped cement the friendship and lives of men and women far from home.

Someplace in Iraq, Sgt. Greg Bradley enjoys a cup of Joe.