combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 02 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2004

A Paean to the Mud in Your Eye

All that a soldier really wants is dry socks, hot chow, cold beer, regular rest, and good friends. All he ever gets is fatigue, blisters, cold rations, weak coffee, hot shit, more excuses, and too many orders. Then he's expected to volunteer, and not complain!
soldier's view

The military runs on coffee ... literally, a regular army. After reveille's assembly, the day's first cup of greasy joe seems to stimulate a post-wide constitutional; which latrine briefing is often more significant than morning report, and more informative than officer's call. Coffee is a symbol of hospitality, a token of good will, a signal of informality among ranks, a barter commodity, a nonprescription medicament, and an innocent prop. Whether a stimulating decoction or a soothing infusion, coffee has been used for everything from dyeing to flavoring. Soldiers have contrived economical desserts by pouring sweetened coffee over sliced bread (called "coffee slop") in imitation of formal coffeecake; and converted vanilla ice-cream by the addition of cold dregs. Southern stations serve iced coffee as a summer refreshment; and many troops will suffer any misery as long as there's hot java to complain over. Recipes in the field abound, from cocoa blended mocha or cognac laced café-royale to whipped double-cream café-au-lait or cinnamon dusted cappuccino. When most grunts are searching for ways to save ounces in their overloaded rucksack, many connoisseurs will voluntarily carry the added weight of a camp stove and coffee grounds for the mealtime pleasure it brings. True aficionados recognize each other from the lip-scars inflicted by scalding coffee contained in a metal canteen cup. Its aroma may not be tactical, and a boot-sock strainer may not be sanitary, but coffee-breaks have kept more units full strength than any other impetus. The only problem is that many people think their preference should be universally promulgated ... from a brew so thick that a spoon will stand upright, to a watery consommé that smells stronger than it tastes. It is almost ritual for imbibers to declare their preference analogically ... from "I like my coffee just like my women: hot, sweet, white, and weak!" to "My coffee reminds me of my mama: strong, black, and bitter!". Ever since "Old Hickory" replaced the quartermaster's rum allotment with a commissariat's coffee ration in 1832, the beverage has been under the proverbial gun. With all of their good intentions, the religious eccentrics and food fanatics may cause a great mutiny if they succeed in stigmatizing the drinking of coffee in the same way they've penalized smoking. Soldiers will tolerate alot of abuse from their countrymen, from a reduction in force to a cutting of the defense budget, but the Boston Tea Party will look like a picnic compared to the battle over butter and bullets. A retaliation will be fought for the preservation of their just deserts: mmmmm, good coffee rations.

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.