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Friday, July 18

Gunnery sergeant's enterprise prospers in Karbala

By Christian Lowe | Marine Corps Times

KARBALA, Iraq - Gunnery Sgt. Brian Davis didn't expect his deployment to Iraq to be his first venture into small business.

But with creature comforts hard to come by in this town about 50 miles south of Baghdad, Davis' duties include improving the quality of life for his Marines with Headquarters and Support Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

"I certainly never thought I'd be doing anything like this,'' Davis said, flanked by a mountain of soft drink cans, cases of water, and even several boxes of Cuban cigars.

Beyond dealing with the daily gripes and keeping tabs on his grunts, Davis, 32, of San Diego, also manages the camp's "soda mess.''

Tucked into a small room just off the front hall of an abandoned school, the mess is chock full of goodies: cigarettes, candies, soft drinks and refrigerated water.

It all started when Davis' predecessor left the unit in May. All the Marines had on hand then was warm, bottled soda and water.

When Davis came aboard, he went into Karbala with his interpreter, Ahmed, and toured the Pepsi distributor and other facilities to see what he could get for his grunts. Before long, the soda mess looked like a corner market.

The mess now offers just about anything a Marine could ask for, including local souvenirs such as prayer rugs, wristwatches embossed with Saddam Hussein's portrait and Muslim prayer beads.

Marine shoppers pay on the honor system at the unstaffed store. Any profits will help pay for the unit's Marine Corps birthday ball in November.

Davis has expanded his operation to include a laundry service and even a food-delivery service run by locals. Put your order in by 2 p.m. and your meal will be delivered by day's end.

"I can get just about anything for anybody,'' Davis said with obvious pride.

Today's most popular item?

"Jewelry,'' said Davis. "Everybody knows they're going home soon so they want to get something for their wife, or their girlfriend. And 24-carat gold is pretty cheap here.''