AL ASAD, Iraq -- In the barren lands of Iraq, fine tastes often slip away from deployed service members, as the amenities of life in the United States don't carry over here in large quantities.
Three Marines from Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, sought to change all that during this deployment by creating the Lamplighter's Club.
Unlike the historical reference of its name, which was an employee who lit the gas street lights of a town, the Lamplighter's Club is a group of service members who enjoy the fine tastes of good cigars, according to Lt. Col. Gilbert C. Gonzalez, commanding officer, MACG-38 (Forward).
"I got the idea from (Al Taqaddum) where they have something similar called the 'Badda Bing'," said Gonzalez, a San Diego, native. "I was thinking 'Badda Bing,' 'Badda Boom,' but decided I couldn’t call it that. I named it after one of my favorite clubs in San Diego, which was the Lamplighter's Club."
"When we got here to Al Asad, Lieutenant Colonel Gonzalez and I got together, and one of the first things I asked him, trying to break the ice since I hadn't worked with him and he hadn't worked with me, was if he smoked cigars," said Sgt. Maj. Don W. Gallagher, sergeant major, MACG-38 (Forward). "He replied, 'certainly,' and we went out and had a few cigars. We began inviting people who enjoyed fine cigars. It was mainly for camaraderie, socialization and fun."
Although the club was founded by three individuals, two of which were the sergeant major and commanding officer of MACG-38 (Forward), it wasn't formed for any specific rank of service members.
"It spans every rank," said Staff Sgt. Paul N. Whelan, adjutant, MACG-38 (Forward), and a native of Manchester, Mich. "From the most junior to senior ranks on base, we have people from lance corporals up to colonels who join us. It's one of the unique pleasures that anyone can take advantage of, as everyone should take advantage of a fine cigar once in awhile."
Not long after the three founding members developed the club, they began to adhere to a mafia-style rank structure for entertainment while enjoying their cigars.
"It's like the mafia," said Gallagher, a Great Falls, Mont., native. "Lieutenant Colonel Gonzalez is the 'Boss' or 'Don', I'm the 'Muscle,' and Staff Sergeant Whelan is the 'Consigliere.'"
The mock mafia family brought around the idea that they needed a place to relax and enjoy themselves for when they get together, and the "Don's Cabana" went into development.
"We were talking one day and decided we needed an official place," said Gallagher, a Charles M. Russell High School graduate. "That's when the gazebo was developed. We had the idea for about a month or so before construction started. After that, it was done in about a week."
With the creation of the gazebo upon the roof of the MACG-38 building, the members began getting together weekly, inviting fine cigar connoisseurs from across the base.
"It helps to get folks together," said Gonzalez. "It has an informal setting, and we don't talk business. It's kept to a social gathering where everyone has something in common -- enjoying cigars."
"There was a quote by Winston Churchill, where he said, 'I smoke. I drink. I smoke. I drink. Out of the two, smoking keeps me out of trouble,'" Gallagher concluded. "It's something to look forward to at the end of the week, like a reward."
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