Every Friday, a cloud of smoke laced with fine dust rolls across Kandahar, Afghanistan. It isn't from mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles rolling to the gates or from indirect fire, it's from a group known as the Kandahar Koughers.
cigar club, boasting more than 120 members, meets every week. They
smoke cigars, offering a place to unwind and talk about any subject from
work to home life. They also hand out cigars to service members who
have been out on the frontlines fighting for an Afghanistan they hope to
leave in better shape than when they arrived.
On Christmas Eve 2010 Kandahar Airfield (KAF), 12 cigar smokers lit their first cigars as the Kandahar Koughers. Their goal was to get together, enjoy a cigar and include the young fighting men and women they met in the finance office where they were working. Today, they provide a place for cigar lovers to enjoy their hobby together, with no fees and a few free cigars.
"[It's about] spreading the wealth of the camaraderie. When you're smoking a cigar, it's just not smoking a cigar. You're getting the whole package; you're getting a brother- and sisterhood. If you're sitting off by yourself come over here and let's talk," said Alex Medlin, the outgoing club president. "That's the intrinsic value that we get by doing this, you know," he added. "Just helping a soldier."
The club is geared toward enlisted service members and junior officers.
"Really, I guess we're fond of the young guys [who are] going out there putting their lives on the line every day," said Carlos Ramirez, Kougher vice president. "We live in this bubble [KAF], and we know the young guys are going out there. I guess this is a way that we can thank them for what they are doing for us. [The club] was meant for them. It's important they know we're thinking about them."
Good cigars aren't cheap, and it takes money to buy and distribute hundreds of them monthly. So far, the club has spent more than $2,000 on cigars. The club sells T-shirts and challenge coins to raise money for cigars, cutters and lighters. The military has a long-standing tradition of challenge coins. They're given by organizations or commanders as small tokens of thanks for a job well done.
coin is numbered and every shirt and coin has a distinctive logo on it,
designed by an unknown soldier. According to Medlin, the logo, a skull
with an American flag bandanna, originally had two daggers in the
background. It was left by an Army ranger at a former fighting position.
The Koughers replaced the two daggers behind the skull with cigars.
The Koughers send a number of the cigars they purchase to outlying Forward Operating Bases across Southern Afghanistan. It's like a Pony Express for cigars; the Koughers find a soldier, sailor, airman or marine from a distant forward operating base and load them up with cigars for them and their units. When they arrive, all the Koughers ask is that the servicemembers hand out the cigars.
The Koughers also work with the Wounded Warrior Program on KAF to find computers and Internet access for soldiers who are recovering on KAF before moving back out to the fight.
"We've adopted the Wounded Warriors, we leave them cigars," Medlin said. "We found out they didn't have any Internet or computers for the guys that can't walk across the street to MWR [morale, welfare and recreation]. We made a donation to them to buy a computer."
Koughers are also working to get an Internet connection in the Wounded
Even with the coin and T-shirt sales, the Koughers still rely on outside assistance. Donations from cigar companies such as Corona, Fumar, and JR Cigars ensure the Koughers can reach out to as many service members as possible.
last official meeting, we had hundreds of cigar smokers joining the
ranks, and handed out, at no charge-almost 300 cigars." says Medlin. He
went on to say, "We donated two boxes of cigars to the Kandahar United
Service Organization so soldiers there can enjoy at their leisure, as
well as maintaining a supply of sticks for the Wounded Warriors here at
KAF. It is nice to see the many fine men and women laughing and smoking
while enjoying great conversation."
Club members also donate cigars to the club. Those donations, along with club-raised funds and help from outside organizations, add some variety to small-Ziploc bags filled with a note, a cigar or two and encouragement that the club uses to distribute an invitation to a new generation of cigar aficionados serving their country in southern Afghanistan.
Becoming a Kandahar Kougher isn't easy. It isn't a club you can buy your way into, or be invited to by a friend or family member. It is a club of cigar smokers deployed to the southern portion of Afghanistan, a group of men and women that understand the stresses of deployments to a war zone. Camaraderie, a place to smoke a cigar, and if you don't have one-a stick or two for free until your shipment arrives, that is what the Koughers are about.
Most only spend a year on the ground with the club, but they are members for life. The numbered coins act as a sort of registry for the Koughers. As the club grows and members move on from their deployments, some of which can last up to one year, they have a reminder and proof that they are members of the Kandahar Koughers. The coins and the Koughers Facebook page ensures these cigar smokers can identify each other as a true Koughers should they meet again.
Stephen B. Roach is a U.S. Army Sergeant First Class with the 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, deployed to Afghanistan.