Somewhere in Iraq, a "mail mountain" is waiting for Marine Capt. Joe Moye and his team, a mobile unit that trains Iraqi forces along the Jordanian and Syrian borders. In it is a nine-pound package the service members will treat like black gold: an assortment of ground coffee from Starbucks.
The booty has been sent across the oceans by Moye's father, Leesburg resident Mike Moye, an extra-hot-no-foam-skim-latte-drinking regular at the Starbucks on Market Street in Leesburg. The beans were donated by workers at the cafe -- each of whom receives a free pound each week as a job perk -- and they inject a jolt of opulence and high-quality caffeine into care packages in which dental floss and vacuum-wrapped tuna are more common staples.
"Marines survive on very little, but coffee and tobacco are an essential part of our daily diet," Joe Moye, 28, who is serving his third tour in Iraq, wrote in an e-mail.
Starbucks baristas are also pooling their coffee to send to Marine Lt. Col. Tom Leonard, 49, whose father, Leesburg resident Ed Leonard, drops by the coffee shop each morning for his cup of decaf. Two packages, each with nearly 10 pounds of coffee, have made their way to Tom Leonard, who shares the gift with his colleagues in Baghdad, where he is a logistics officer.
"You hand them a bag of it, and their eyes get real big," he said, speaking by telephone from the Iraqi capital.
The service members say the coffee comes not only as a little bit of home and a welcome relief from their regular coffee -- chow hall and ship stuff that Joe Moye says "keeps the heart pumping and eyes sharp, but the taste leaves a lot to be desired" -- but also as a touching symbol of support from home, which can sometimes seem remote.
For the Starbucks workers, passing along their coffee is a tangible way to buoy the troops from afar.
"They need all the comforts of home that they can get, and it's something relatively easy for us to do as a store," said Cathy Hoska, an assistant manager.
Behind the hustle and bustle of milk-steaming and espresso-pulling at the shop's busy counter, a hallway bulletin board is tagged with a sign-up sheet for employees willing to give up their weekly quota. On a recent day, a handful of workers' names were on it, along with the coffee blends they had selected to donate -- one would be giving Guatemala, another Serena Organic. Hoska said about eight to 12 workers give up their coffee each week.
Pegged near the list are digital photos and e-mails sent by Tom Leonard, their subject lines reading, "Coffee has arrived!!" and "Coffee in Baghdad."
"It is being enjoyed by everyone," he wrote in one e-mail.
Also on the board is an advance thank-you letter from Joe Moye, addressed to the "Starbucks Crew," most of whom he has never met.
The coffee drive came to life in February, when Tom Leonard was stateside and visiting his parents before taking off in March for his second tour; he also served in the Persian Gulf War. At Starbucks one morning, Ed introduced Tom to employee Linda Pretty, who offered to send him her coffee allotment and recruit others to do so, said Ed Leonard, 75.
The first batch they sent was whole bean, sending Tom Leonard on a frantic hunt for a grinder. "It's always ground now," Pretty said.
Later, after a query from Mike Moye, the Starbucks crew signed up Joe Moye as its second recipient.
"They've got great people who work there; they're very personable and friendly," said Mike Moye, 60, a retired bank employee. "Starbucks is a version of the old [television] series 'Cheers.' "
The care packages bearing Starbucks java -- and the instant e-mail communication about them -- reflect how times have changed since Ed Leonard and Mike Moye, both veterans, were stationed overseas.
Leonard, who flew Air Force helicopters from a base in Danang, Vietnam, in 1967-68, said he did not have it so rough: He lived in an old French hotel, complete with ceiling fans and maid service. But e-mail was nonexistent, and phone calls were rare. Leonard said he relied on frequent letters from his wife, Dolly. Son Tom, then a 12-year-old with an aversion to letter-writing, taped audio messages for his father. A care package containing canned trout in wine sauce, perfect for heating on a hot plate, was a special treat, Leonard said.
"I looked so forward to care packages, and now here I am sending care packages to my son," Leonard said.
Mike Moye, who spent 18 months in Okinawa, Japan, as a Chinese linguist with the Air Force, relied on "snail mail" to bring him letters now and then -- or his mother's banana bread.
"Sometimes it would get to me just right," he said. "Because mail was spotty, sometimes I'd open the package and there'd be this green mold all over it."
Even during the Persian Gulf War, Tom Leonard said, correspondence with home resembled that of his father's era. Without the Internet and with only occasional phone calls from home that were arranged weeks in advance -- calling out was "horribly expensive," he said -- letters and packages dominated. These days, troops have access to cell phones and e-mail.
"Now we've got things so much different and so much better," Tom Leonard said, referring to his father's days in Vietnam. "But in many, many ways, they're still the same. You look forward to the care packages; you look forward to the letters from home."
Joe Moye said those comforts are not squandered: He plans to ration his coffee, breaking it out just a couple times a week -- once he gets it, that is.
Meanwhile, the Starbucks crew is happy to keep sending it, Pretty said.
"Anything we could possibly do to help them over there is what we would do," she said. "This is something small, and if it brightens their lives, boy, we do it."