By Capt. Briana McFarlandJune 6, 2018
CAMP TAJI MILITARY COMPLEX, Iraq -- The grinding, banging, clanking and whistling all coming from an espresso machine fill the air with aromas of fresh ground coffee and heavenly bliss as Soldiers place their orders.
Ordering the perfect cup of joe has become an art form, a skill, a scientific experiment that when done correctly can make you forget about the stressful woes of your work-filled day ahead.
The Dustoff Coffee shop began with the purchase of an espresso machine and is now used to boost morale, build unit cohesion and bolster energy for Soldiers to complete their daily tasks.
"The guys we were [replacing] were selling the espresso machine, and I was like, well, there are a few things we could pay for around here if we started a coffee shop," said 1st Lt Peter Bendorf, medevac pilot. "It would make all of our lives a little bit easier."
With the opening of the shop, Soldiers assigned to the 449th Combat Aviation Brigade, a component of the North Carolina National Guard, get to experience a real coffee shop. Dustoff Coffee isn't your typical coffee shop, being located in an office space in the brigade's work area and operated by medical evacuation pilots assigned to Company G, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment, Oregon Army National Guard.
Bendorf was excited about the idea but was met with some opposition during its inception.
"I was actually told by my commander and first sergeant that it was a terrible idea, but I kind of went with it," said Bendorf. As we went along, people kept adding more stuff to it, and we built some shelves and got a room."
Camp Taji contains one of two Dustoff coffee shops. The coffee shop was more than an idea, it was routine, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan Amato.
"It is a tradition for Oregon [National Guard members] to stand up a coffee shop on every deployment or take over a coffee shop," said Amato. "Spc. Toby Sewell and I are actually from Oregon assigned to Company G, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment, so we are all coffee connoisseurs."
Wall art, coffee mugs, an assortment of snacks, and a barista with great customer service ready to make your favorite drink can all be found at the Dustoff. The old and worn leather couch is the perfect place to relax and drift off into a donated book that can take you to another world. The marque outlines the drinks available, and a donation jar is placed on the barista bar.
"I would like people to know that it is completely donation based, so everything given here is given back," said Bendorf. "It's not just us taking money and having a side hustle, it's us making our lives better."
The coffee shop is currently operated by five medevac pilots and with leadership comes great responsibility. Now that Dustoff Coffee was formed, they had to learn how to use the espresso machine and make some of the most popular drinks to include lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos and mochas, to name a few.
"When we first started out, we definitely made all the wrong drinks to figure out what concoctions and ratios actually worked, because we hadn't made coffee before," said Capt. Ashley Morris.
The baristas took turns perfecting their craft as they learned through Google and YouTube, tasting their products to figure out what worked. They also conducted surveys to find out what Soldiers liked and they have a policy allowing Soldiers to return drinks if they don't like them, said Amato. Most importantly, they use the donated money to give back.
"We use the funds for internet providers to help anyone who can't afford it in their rooms," said Amato. "We also use it to host barbecues to bring the battalion, brigade and coalition forces together. We hosted one recently and try to invite everybody."
The coffee shop has become a staple in the 449th Combat Aviation Brigade community at Camp Taji, even being visited by the same commander and first sergeant who originally didn't believe in the idea. However, in order to get some of their famous coffee, you may want to check their working hours first.
"We run shifts randomly, because we still run medevac," said Amato. "We are open from about 10am to 4pm, closing the shop if we have missions or meetings to attend."