Like the rest of the world these days, sometimes soldiers just gotta have their lattes and frappucinos. And just like everywhere else, Starbucks is available on most U.S. military bases. There's probably some profound societal or economic implication behind that fact, but I'll leave that to someone better qualified than me to analyze.
What is important is that the Starbucks on military bases can actually serve as sort of a refuge or escape. Odd as it may sound, the opportunity to walk into a Starbucks store, purchase a five-dollar coffee and sit down with a newspaper may be the only time during the day (or week, or month) that a soldier can hang out somewhere that reminds him or her of the outside civilian world. It's a bit of a break from the constant grind and stress of duty. The walls are earth-toned, not olive drab or concrete. The chairs are plush and inviting, not stamped with "Property of U.S. Army." The sounds in the air are of jazz music and friends chatting, not of orders being given or of industrial machines. Combine all that with a healthy dose of caffeine, and it's no wonder the military Starbucks are doing so well.
I've spent quite a bit of time--and definitely too much money--at Starbucks on various Army bases, partly because of an addiction to soy lattes, but more often out of boredom and a sheer lack of other places to hang out. For instance, while my husband was in the Army's Officer Candidate School, he wasn't allowed to leave the post during the first several weeks of training, even on the half-days he had off on Sunday. This meant we spent a lot of Sundays at the Starbucks on post. Where else were we going to go? It was the only place we could hang out for more than five minutes without crossing paths with someone in his chain of command, and besides, we could only walk in circles around the PX or hike the walking trails for so long. At least at Starbucks, we could sit down and talk relatively privately in a corner booth.
The sight of a soldier in combat boots delicately sipping a caffeine-laced concoction through a straw, or uttering the words "I'd like a grande vanilla sugar-free latte with soy, no foam and whipped cream" never fails to amuse me, even though it's become commonplace. I've always loved to people watch at coffee shops, so the Starbucks at military bases are vastly interesting to me. The crowds there are a sharp contrast to the suburban Starbucks customers of my hometown. Gone are the wanna-be urban hipsters, the harried soccer moms, the sleepy college students and the bored high schoolers. Instead, there are camouflage-clad soldiers, defense contractors in hard hats or suits, young mothers pushing double or triple strollers, and a variety of spouses and visitors who just wanted to get out of their house or hotel room, enthralled by their computer screen or book. For a few minutes at least, everyone there has a little piece of home, even if it's in the form of an overpriced coffee.
Photo credit: Jennie Farber, flickr.com