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(From left to right) Master Gunnery Sgt. Ralph L. Tucker, from Rice, Va.; Staff Sgt. Jeff S. Bias, from Columbus, Ohio; and Petty Officer Second Class Katheryn D. Nuzum, from Stanton, Iowa, enjoy some jazz music and each other's company while shooting craps at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq July 7, 2006. The jazz night's inauguration a few weeks ago filled a niche for Marines who did not attend other recreational activities such as the videogame room, which are geared more towards younger Marines. Jazz night at the recreation center here may not have the same atmosphere found in one of its New York or Chicago counterparts, but it serves its purpose for the Marines, sailors and soldiers stationed at this logistics hub located in the heart of the unpredictable Al Anbar Province. Official USMC photo by: Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz (060707-M-2864D-002) (Released)

Photo by Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz

Jazz, coffee morale medicine for Marines in Iraq

12 Jul 2006 | Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz

Life on base is often monotonous when it isn't dangerous for the service members stationed here. The occasional mortar and rocket landing in the base's perimeter can break up daily routines.

Daily convoys leave the relative safety of the base braving improvised explosive devices to deliver supplies and transport troops to hotspots like Ramadi and Fallujah.

Dust storms and 110 degree-plus temperatures are the norm for the nearly 6,000 service members serving in a variety of capacities at Taqaddum. Professionals such as administrative clerks keeping personnel records in order to explosive ordnance technicians who search Iraq's roadways for improvised explosive devices can be found working long and hard doing their part to secure Iraq.

Finding new ways of getting away from the routines and dangers while deployed here is something many of these service members work almost as hard at as they do their jobs. A new addition to the recreation center here should help them out.

The quaint jazz club picks up around 10 p.m. Contemporary saxophone music permeates the room as three middle-aged men play poker and enjoy a conversation. Another man sits on a couch with his eyes closed, absorbing and relaxing to the instrumental coming from the stereo; his assault rifle leans on the couch next to him.

Jazz night at the recreation center here may not have the same atmosphere found in one of its New York or Chicago counterparts, but it serves its purpose for the Marines, sailors and soldiers stationed at this logistics hub located in the heart of the hostile Al Anbar province.

For many of the service members deployed here for six to 12 months, small distractions like the jazz club can provide a welcomed break from the stresses of being far from home in a combat zone.

Sgt. Eric G. Froats, a former jazz percussionist back home in London, Ontario, is one such Marine who has taken a liking to the recent addition. As a military justice clerk for the prosecutor's office here, Froats has to work on a daily basis with Marines facing legal reprimand.

"It's just nice to leave the office, come here and zone out for a little while. It's definitely an important time for me," he said while listening to the latest jazz track flowing from the stereo.

The jazz night's inauguration a few weeks ago increased the recreation options for service members here, which are usually limited to video games, weight lifting, and watching the latest bootleg DVD when they get some down time.

A brainchild of Navy Lts. Willie McCoy and Wilfredo Rodriguez, jazz night was thought up during their ritual Sunday morning meetings when they would get together to listen to jazz music over a cup of hot coffee.

The two east-coast natives enjoyed the atmosphere and simple luxuries these simple meetings provided and mused that others on the base would also take pleasure in them as well, said McCoy, a health care administrator assigned to the 1st Marine Logistics Group here.

"People need a place to relax, let down their hair and socialize," said McCoy who serves as the deejay every Thursday, playing some of his favorites from back home in Chicago.

Rodriguez, the chaplain for the base's surgical shock trauma and personnel recovery platoons, wanted to share the music he had listened to growing up in New Brunswick, N.J., such as the 1950's Cuban-afro influence of Frank "Machito" Grillo, he said.

The two men proposed the idea of making a jazz night at the local recreation center to base leaders and were given the go-ahead to make the project a reality.

Navy Seabees, military construction engineers and builders, were called in to build a counter to set up the coffee bar. Tables were set up for chess matches, card games and dominoes.

Rodriguez says the addition of a cappuccino machine would make their impromptu jazz club complete. With the average cappuccino machine costing nearly $4,000, Rodriguez doesn't expect to get one anytime soon, though.

The music and service on the other hand, are in full order as both Rodriguez and McCoy's personal hometown collections are used to fill the otherwise quiet and empty room. Both men act as club hosts and make sure the newcomers feel at home and get the break they're looking for.

From now on, Thursday nights at Camp Taqaddum will give the Marines, sailors and soldiers here a chance to lower their guard and leave the war outside.

Inside, Rodriguez just hopes to serve a good cup of coffee until a cappuccino machine appears.
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