First Cup then & now
February 28, 2014
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - At Mustang Ramp, the noise of helicopters drowns out everything. The buildings in and around the ramp reverberate with the sound of rotors cutting the air and engines whining up with power. Soldiers must shout to be heard over the noise. Eventually, the helicopters always take off or power down, leaving a silence broken by the clanging of wrenches on engines and a bit of music here and there.
Amongst all these noises, a careful listener catches a muffled cry of exclamation and joy from a building unlike any other. Upon closer inspection, he sees a porch in the front and a sign reading "First Cup" hanging overhead. Moving closer, he catches the smell of fresh coffee brewing and buttered popcorn hot from the microwave. As he enters, his eyes are filled with the sight of bookshelves, chairs, a ping pong table in the back corner with a TV opposite. To top it al, one whole wall is filled with Keurig coffee makers and an espresso machine. For Sgt. Joey Radford, a combat medic with 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, his morning cup of coffee from First Cup is the way he starts the day.
"I come in every morning to fill my cup with coffee," Radford said. "The volunteers make great coffee here, and there is nice people and new faces here every morning."
Air Force Master Sgt. Orlin Rohde, an engineer with the 577th Expeditionary Squadron supervising repairs to Mustang Ramp, was looking for a good cup of coffee before finding First Cup.
"I saw a Soldier walking out with a steaming cup one morning, and when I followed him in the next day, I walked into a great experience," Rohde said. "Great people serving great coffee with a smile helps get us through our day."
For Captain Kevin Trimble, a chaplain with Task Force Gunfighter and no stranger to Mustang Ramp, this is music to his ears.
"This is a great ministry for me and I've had fun being involved with First Cup for the second time now," Trimble said.
Trimble, who's previous deployment to Kandahar Airfield in 2010 with 6th General Support Aviation Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, was the original builder and part of the driving force behind First Cup.
The only place on the north side of Kandahar Airfield to get a cup of coffee, First Cup stands as the place for soldiers and civilians working or visiting the area to sit down for a break and coffee.
"The movement control team and contract air was here at Mustang ramp when I was here with 6th GSAB," commented Trimble. "We used to get 800-1,000 people coming in to First Cup every day."
From the everyday Soldier, airman and civilian to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, First Cup has played host to them all.
For all of First Cup's distinguished guests and normal business, the story of how it was built is one of dedication and devotion to the idea of a place for Soldiers to relax and have a cup of joe.
"When I first got to 6th Battalion, everyone told me about the coffee house they built at Bagram Airfield in 2008 during the unit's previous deployment," Trimble said. "When we got to Kandahar in 2010, my battalion commander, Lt. Col. T. Bradley Ninness, immediately wanted to build a coffee house."
Every time construction got under way, a new challenge would crop up, Trimble said.
From officers inside and outside the brigade telling him "No, you can't build a coffee house" to his wood being stolen, Trimble faced hurdle after hurdle to complete the task of building First Cup.
Kandahar Airfield was increasing its infrastructure in response to the surge of U.S. forces ordered by President Barrack Obama, but coffee houses were low on the priority list. The approval process for new buildings took almost nine months, according to Trimble.
"We couldn't build new chapels for the same reason because by the time the building was approved, we would be gone," commented Trimble.
When his wood was stolen, Trimble went to his battalion leadership for help. An all users message via email was sent out to all the units on Kandahar Airfield, and the donations flowed in.
"We got hardware and wood, doors and air conditioners by the truck loads from units across the airfield; Lowe's and Home Depot donated hinges and lights and more hardware; and we traded coffee for whatever else we needed," Trimble said.
With the help of Sgt. Thomas Davis and Pfc. Roscoe Harris, among others, First Cup took thirty days to complete, said Trimble.
Donations for First Cup, from books and sundries to food and coffee, flowed in from churches and organizations throughout the U.S., including Holy Joe's Café, Green Mountain Coffee, Monin Syrups, Adopt-A-Platoon, Operation Gratitude, and Operation Care and Comfort.
"Among others, the support from these organizations is a big part of the First Cup's appeal and success with Soldiers," said 1st Combat Aviation Brigade's senior chaplain, Maj. Joshua Gilliam.
Once the building was finished, all that remained was the name.
"We named it First Cup for the 101st Airborne," Trimble said. "It was primarily for 6th GSAB Soldiers, but all were welcome."
Now, after four other brigades rotating through Mustang Ramp, the theme of a place for soldiers to take a break endured. Trimble was impressed with improvements to First Cup upon his return.
"We used to have to fill the generator daily and make any repairs ourselves. Now the building is cared for by the Kandahar Airfield garrison, the same as any other," Trimble said. "This is the best thing I have been involved with and I'm grateful God gave me the opportunity and Lt. Col. Ninness told me 'Keep going!' so we could see the project through."