Super Bowl: Troops watched from afar
By Maya Alleruzzo
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq ó With its six big-screen TVs, assorted beer and a menu of chicken wings and pizza, it looked like any bar hosting a Super Bowl party. But this was the chow hall at Camp Victory, the sprawling U.S. military base on the outskirts of Baghdad.
The kickoff was at 2 a.m. Monday (2300 GMT Sunday, 6 p.m. EST), but that didn’t stop some 660 raucous soldiers from cramming into the dining hall to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23.
Cardinal fans sat on one side while Steelers fans congregated on the other, many swinging Terrible Towels.
Pfc. Donald Knapp, 21, from Mansfield, Ohio wrote “Steelers” on his Army-issued tan undershirt and used black marker under his eyes to write “GO” on one cheek and “STEELERS” on the other.
“It was definitely a nice break to give people something to look forward to. … Usually, everybody’s just ‘work, work, work,’ ” said Capt. Brooke Rhode, 28, from Hustisford, Wisc.
The beer started flowing an hour before kickoff, with each soldier allowed to drink two 12 oz. brews from their choice of six brands. The soldiers had been granted a one-time exception to a strict military ban on drinking alcohol in combat zones.
“The Guinness went within minutes. It didn’t stand a chance,” said Staff Sgt. Gerald Thompson, 45 from Apple Valley, Minn., one of several senior noncommissioned officers tasked to dole out beer.
Drinking alcohol isn’t illegal in Iraq but is banned under Islam, and Muslim extremists have frequently targeted liquor stores. The exemption comes as the U.S. military faces stricter Iraqi oversight under a new security agreement that took effect Jan. 1.
The crowd had thinned by the game’s dramatic finish, with last call at 4 a.m. so that the chow-hall workers could get ready to serve breakfast. For the Steelers fans who remained, the approaching dawn put no damper on the celebration.
Staff Sgt. Michael Sauret, 23, picked up his lieutenant, 30-year-old Julie Glaubagh, and swung her around. The Pittsburgh natives were in a group of public affairs reservists from Pennsylvania who were going home in two days.
For troops who had to work, Armed Forces Network planned to rebroadcast the game at noon, and beer would be served then.
“It just makes it a little more like home. But just a little bit,” said Chief Warrant Officer Luis Campos, 35, from El Monte, Calif.