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Resilience with a “cup of joe”

Retired Army Col. Kevin Cavanaugh, Connecticut State Militia Chaplain and former Army Chaplain,  accepts a donation of more than 1,400 pounds of coffee, June 14, 2021 at Bradley Air National Guard Base, Connecticut. The coffee was donated by Holy Joe's Cafe, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Tamara R. Dabney)

Retired Army Col. Kevin Cavanaugh, Connecticut State Militia Chaplain and former Army Chaplain, accepts a donation of more than 1,400 pounds of coffee, June 14, 2021 at Bradley Air National Guard Base, Connecticut. The coffee was donated by Holy Joe's Cafe, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Tamara R. Dabney)

HARTFORD, Conn. --

Military chaplains lend a listening ear to service members who want to talk about the issues that they are faced with. Thanks to a donation from Holy Joe’s Café, a nationally recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, members of the Connecticut Military Department can have these conversations over a hot cup of coffee.

Retired Army Col. Kevin Cavanaugh, a former Army Chaplain currently serving as a Chaplain in the Connecticut State Militia, accepted a donation of more than 1,400 pounds (approximately 60,000 cups) of coffee from Holy Joe’s Café. The coffee will be available to members of the Connecticut State Militia as well as members of the Connecticut Army and Air National Guard.

Lt. Col. Eric Wismar, who serves as the 103rd Airlift Wing Chaplain and full-time support Chaplain for the Connecticut National Guard, is dedicated to helping Airmen and Soldiers build and sustain resiliency. Being able to adapt to adversity, trauma and stress could start with a conversation and a cup of coffee, said Wismar.

“Everybody appreciates being able to stop and have a talk together over a cup of coffee,” said Wismar. “This [donation], enables us to do that. We have absolute confidentiality, so you know what happens in the chaplain’s office stays in the chaplain’s office. People can come to us and share anything. Our mission is to facilitate the first amendment right to freedom of religion, but even more fundamental to our mission is taking care of each of our Guard members.”

Coffee has a storied history within the United States military. According to some historical accounts, the term “cup of joe” can be traced back to the U.S. Navy. Legend has it that in 1914, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, known to sailors as “Secretary Joe,” issued an order that prohibited alcohol aboard U.S. Navy vessels and in Navy yards. As a result of this order, coffee became the most potent beverage that sailors were authorized to consume. The sailors then referred to a cup of coffee as a "cup of joe". Thomas Jastermsky, Founder, Executive Director and CEO of Holy Joe’s Café, partly attributes the inspiration for the name of the organization to this Navy legend. However, the name was also inspired by an informal moniker for military chaplains “Holy Joe,” which dates back to the American Civil War. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Chaplain Father William Corby, a Holy Joe, performed an impromptu rite of general absolution (forgiveness of sins without prior individual confession) for a group of Catholic soldiers. With blessing and encouragement from Corby, the soldiers moved forward into combat. More than 150 years later, the role of the Holy Joe remains unchanged.

Founded in 2006, Holy Joe’s Café has donated billions of cups of coffee. The organization appreciates the service of military members, said Jastermsky. Like Wismar, Jastermsky hopes that the coffee that is donated positively contributes to the resiliency of service members.

“We hope this opens doors for people who may want to talk with a Chaplain,” said Jastermsky. “For people who are dealing with whatever issues, there'll be someone to talk to and also a cup of coffee. You think, “okay great, coffee”, but it takes on more meaning through the chaplains and adds to resiliency. For us, it means a lot to help other people and we just want to give a big thank you for all that the service members do.”

The Chaplain Corps provides pastoral care ministry and counseling to service members, regardless of religious affiliation, or lack thereof. Wismar believes that the coffee donation is a blessing that will lead to a positive outcome. 

“This gift from Holy Joe's Café is going to be a great blessing,” said Wismar. “Now we, in turn, get to be the bearers of blessings. So, we're the conduit of blessing, thanks to Holy Joe's Café.”