For One Night, GIs in Iraq Get a Taste of Home: Football and Beer

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 9, 2009

BAGHDAD, Jan. 8 -- Of all the missives the top U.S. military commander in Iraq has signed, probably none generated more cheer than the one issued this week authorizing all U.S. troops to drink beer.

Two catches: only two per person and only on Super Bowl night.

The waiver, issued Wednesday by Gen. Ray Odierno, marks the first time all American service members in Iraq will be allowed to break the ban on liquor in combat zones without risking being court-martialed.

"Feels good to be trusted!" rejoiced Spec. Justin Roark, 23, of Little Rock, who is stationed in Baghdad. "Keeping in touch with an American tradition."

The gesture follows a steep decrease in violence in Iraq. Last month, seven U.S. troops were killed violently in Iraq, one of the lowest monthly death tolls since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. American troops are engaging less in combat and increasingly taking on training, advisory and support roles.

The Super Bowl, which will be held Feb. 1 in Tampa, occurs during a 40-day period of religious discipline observed by Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim community. Perhaps mindful of that, Odierno instructed commanders to "keep in mind all host nation laws and customs regarding alcohol use."

Troops in Iraq wishing to watch the game will have to stay up late. It will be 2 a.m. in Baghdad when the live broadcast starts. For that reason, the grace period will be in effect Feb. 1 and 2.

Odierno played tight end at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The general , 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, is a huge football fan.

"No doubt about that," said his spokesman, Lt. Col. James Hutton. No doubt also about the team favored by the general, a northern New Jersey native. Added Hutton: "New York Giants, man!"

Odierno's memo didn't say what kind of beer the military will bring in; virtually all goods made available to U.S. troops are imported. Iraq is largely dry, but beer is available on the local market.

The soberly written memo didn't leave much wiggle room on a paramount issue for beer lovers: quantity. "Consumption of alcoholic beverages pursuant to this waiver is limited to two 12-ounce beers per individual," it said.

The ban on drinking alcohol in combat zones is covered by General Order No. 1, which also prohibits service members from proselytizing and having sex with Iraqis, among other proscribed activities.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company