Tastes of Home in Tikrit
By Meg Hibbert // Main Street Newspapers
Even though it is in the middle of Iraq, there's a little corner of home accompanied by the aroma of fresh coffee inside a plywood building cobbled together on the desert sands of Tikrit.
It's an unofficial outpost of Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea, known as Java Dustoff. Dustoff is the term for a medivac unit.
The coffee shop was the idea of Joseph Lemons' unit, explained his fiancé, Sandy Sale.
Sale, a critical care unit nurse who was one of the first to be deployed in Tikrit for the past year, was a day shift supervisor and baker at Mill Mountain in Salem about six years ago. When the guys and gals in the medivac unit wanted good coffee, "not Army coffee," she knew where to find it.
"I contacted Mill Mountain on line to try to order stuff and that's when my mom, Teresa Carroll of Roanoke, went over to Mill Mountain and got the coffee for us," she explained.
Sale did all the primary ordering for Java Dustoff, and spent her share of time working there, too.
"When I would get off my 12-hour shift at night I'd go over there," she said. "They loved all the coffees, but thought Mill Mountain's Crème Brulee was the best in the world."
Many of the military people didn't drink tea, but Sale introduced them to exotic teas.
"They went crazy over Snow Monkey Plum," she added. "I had to clean out Salem's Mill Mountain store, they loved it so much."
The Java Dustoff started by accident.
"There was a guy in my fiance's unit who had gotten a bag of coffee from home and a pot, and people started coming. He set up in part of an old bunker that wasn't used; later they started building a huge plywood building for the new coffee shop," she added. They moved in on Christmas Eve.
By the time her unit left Tikrit, the coffee shop had accumulated a couple of coffee grinding machines, two espresso machines and four 12-cup brew pots, Sale said.
The new unit that came in two weeks ago to replace the unit being rotated stateside bought the coffee shop's stock and machines, she added.
In addition to having good coffee and tea, the Java Dustoff was maybe even more important to the troops in Tikrit as a gathering place, a bit of home.
"Military people from all over came in," Sale said. "We had a whole wall where they could put pictures of their cars, their families, pictures of home. Whenever people came in they forgot for a while we were in Iraq."
Sale is modest about the part she played in her medical assignment, but with a little prompting she warms up.
"I wouldn't have chosen it, that's for sure, but I'm so fortunate to have been a part of it. I thank God I was in the position I was in because in the hospital we sort of made history," she said, "for what the hospital did."
The field hospital broke through new technology by being one of the first to have a neurosurgery team and an eye surgery team operating on the battlefield, Sale explained.
"That had never been done on the battlefield before," she said, "and it was a really big deal - groundbreaking."
About 60 percent of the people her medical team treated were Iraquis, she said, "either enemy prisoners of war or injured civilians. We even had some contract workers who were injured in vehicle accidents; and of course, the American soldiers."
Sale's mother talks more about what her daughter missed out on during that year than Sandy does.
"Her grandmother, Bertha Marshall of Blacksburg, died while she was gone; her nephew was born and she missed her best friend's wedding she was supposed to be in," Teresa Carroll said.
Her nephew is Noah Carroll, the child of Sandy's brother Greg Carroll and his wife Allison. Allison is the daughter of former Salem City Manager Randy Smith.
Sale is now back at Fort Bragg, N.C., working in the At Fort Brag she works in operations and training in the Combat Support Hospital. She is looking forward to the day her fiancé comes back from Iraq. They plan to be married in April.
She was sent to Iraq in March 2003, first assigned 30 miles west of Baghdag and later to Tikrit.
"Half the time we were in a tent out on the dirt. It was rugged," she said. "Then we got the nice tents, the same kind they build the field hospital out of, with environmental control units that provide air conditioning and heat."
She and Joe, a flight medic from Martinsville, met about three years ago when both were on their way to deployment in Bosnia.
One of the aspects of being in Bosnia Sale liked was an opportunity to learn more Bosnian language.
"When I was in high school at Roanoke Valley Christian Schools I tutored a Bosnian girl," explained Sale, who is 25.
After graduating in 1996, she went through nurse's training at the Army's Fort Gordon, Ga.
She is considering the Army as a career, and has three years left on her tour. By the end of her tour she will have been in for 10 years.
Does Sale think she will be sent back to Iraq?
"There's no telling. There is a chance both our units will be returning next year," she added, speaking of her fiance's unit as well. "I would love to go back and help out with the coffee shop, if it worked out that way."
Sale is the daughter of David and Teresa Carroll. She holds the rank of sergeant E5.
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