Photo by Sgt. Brian Tuthill, managing editor of the Hawaii Marine

BY KRISTEN WONG FOR HAWAII MARINE – Kailua-Kona resident Robert Gowan was a coffee farmer looking for a way to support the troops.

Gowan asked his father, a World War II Air Force veteran, if he had any good memories “amidst all the tough conditions” during the war. His father replied that he and his fellow service members would find cheer as they lay in a fi ghting hole in the early morning hours when they could smell fresh coffee brewing from the cooks’ tent.

Since 2008, Gowan, the Hawaii state coordinator of the Hawaii Chapter of the Gathering of Eagles, has sent more than 5,000 pounds of coffee as well as other supplies to every service branch currently deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. In each service, the project has a different name. For the Marines, it is Operation Jarhead Java.

There are currently about 25 coffee farmers on the Island of Hawaii who donate coffee to the troops. Gowan mails flat rate boxes full of coffee from the U.S. Postal Service in his spare time. The preparation could take as long as three to four days, depending on how much coffee he has to send. Many boxes also include filters, a handwritten message to the troops, and a pocket-sized Bible provided by Gideons International.

Gowan has also sent more than 100 coffee grinders to the troops. All he asks for in return are some pictures of troops receiving and enjoying the coffee.

However, when Gowan asked 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, about the coffee they received, he was surprised to hear that due to their austere conditions in Iraq, there was a lack of coffee makers available.

“I asked them how do you go about brewing it?”

Gowan said. “[They replied] ‘we make it in our socks … we’re Marines, we’re tough, we improvised’ … I was appalled.”

Gowan found volunteers who sewed special “coffee socks” which they could use instead. The coffee socks are 100 percent cotton and cut by hand.

In late March, Gowan sent 36 pounds of coffee to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Fortunately the Pegasus Marines did have coffee makers in their work area and brewed almost constantly throughout the day, due to the frequent shift changes.

“It definitely raises morale,” said Maj. Shawn Budd, aircraft maintenance officer, HMH-463. “[The coffee] gives us a little boost when we need it.”

Budd said the squadron works 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and many of the squadron Marines drink coffee. He said it’s great to “get that taste of home when you’re overseas.” Budd himself drinks two to three cups daily. He said his Marines enjoy the coffee while they discuss missions, as well as the maintenance department while they plan their daily flight operations.

Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362 received several batches of coffee between August 2010 and March of this year.

“We were incredibly grateful,” said Capt. Salvador Jauregui, Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization officer, HMH-362. “We really appreciated what [Gowan] did for us.”

Jauregui said the Ugly Angels enjoyed the coffee while they worked in Afghanistan during the freezing winter months. Several of the shops in the squadron each had a coffee pot. Jauregui said the Marines would have their coffee out on a table next to care packages filled with baked goods from home.

The GOE is a nonprofit organization established in 2007 by retired Navy captain Larry Bailey. The organization now supports service members nationwide.

For more information about the organization or to donate, email hawaiigoe@gmail.com.

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