TAJI, Iraq — The scent of cigar smoke filtered through the night air, accompanied by the sound of frenzied chatter, laughter and camaraderie.
It was a select group, bound together by the Army's birthday and their rank, freed for a moment from the constraints of being in a combat zone far away from home.
Thanks to the cigars.
This group in particular was the 'diamond club,' first sergeants of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, who converged for a 'smoker,' June 14, on the newly renovated Aviation Logistics Operations Center rooftop, as they met not only to smoke cigars, but to celebrate the Army's 234th birthday at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad.
The smoker was attended by first sergeants from every company within the 1st ACB, said 1st Sgt. Joseph Wilgeroth, from Bath, Pa., 1st ACB, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, who added the diamond club had been formed at Fort Hood before deployment.
"Command Sergeant Major (Glen) Vela started up the diamond club back in the rear and we had a first annual dinner for all the first sergeants," Wilgeroth said. "He [Vela] wanted to have the first smoker here at Camp Taji and I was put in charge of getting the first event kicked off."
Wilgeroth said spending the Army' birthday while deployed is just like any other holiday or significant date, but the smoker is a good morale booster.
"You celebrate it the best you can wherever you're at and have a good time," Wilgeroth said. "You might not be where you want to be but you try to make the most of every location you're at."
Guest speaker at the smoker was Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, from Campbellsburg, Ind., division command sergeant major, 1st Cav. Div., who said attending the smoker was a great opportunity, made more significant by the Army's birthday.
"We are a part of 234 years of Army history and this is a great team building event with senior leaders all together at one time," Malloy said. "They are all able to tap into each others' Army experiences and I'm honored to be here and be part of this."
To spend the Army's birthday in a combat zone provides the reason why the Army exists, Malloy said.
"We are deployed here, doing exactly what the Army is designed to do," Malloy said. "I can't think of a better place to be on the Army's birthday than in combat."
The Army was in existence before the nation was even founded, making it one of the oldest institutions around — a reason to be proud, Malloy said.
"The Army will still be here long after everything else is said and done, answering the call and defending our nation's freedom and those who don't have it," Malloy explained. "It's what we were called to do and are supposed to do."
Malloy was joined in talking to the first sergeants by Col. Douglas Gabram, from Cleveland, Ohio, commander, 1st ACB, who praised the group for making the 1st ACB operate efficiently.
"Due to your leadership, your motivation and dedication we got here safely," Gabram said, in reference to the trip to Iraq. "You hold the line making the hard calls every day, but that's why you are who you are, where you are and why you're in the position you're in."
Gabram said it is up to the first sergeants to keep Soldiers motivated and their heads held high, not an easy thing to do.
"We left our families at home and now the family we have is this one," Gabram said motioning to the first sergeants.
Gabram said the smoker is a positive event, which many units do not do, and would be continued throughout the deployment to increase the family atmosphere.
"It's all about the team, so enjoy it," he said.
This work, 'Diamond club' meets to celebrate Army birthday at Taji, by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.