|Card games give service members chance
to relax, talk trash downrange
By Jessica Inigo,
Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Sunday, June 27, 2004
Jessica Inigo / S&S
Rounders from Headquarters and Headquarters
Company, 1st Cavalry Division's surgeon
section in Baghdad said playing poker helps
them work together better as team, as well
as releases stress from demanding work hours
Jessica Inigo / S&S
Capt. David "KGZ" Zimmerman, medical
operations officer for Headquarters and
Headquarters Company, 1st Cavalry Division,
displays a tray of poker chips given to
the troops from oldvegaschips.com.
The chips were once used in a fund-raising
event before they were donated to the 1st
VICTORY NORTH, Iraq — Five sets of cold, blank
eyes stare out of deadpan faces prepared to give
a Baghdad beatdown.
guys are aggressive. They’re ready for war. Nothing
would make them feel better than some rolled-up
aces over kings.
battle is called “No-Limit Texas Hold ’Em,” and
the “rounders,” or players, are deployed medical
troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
couple of weeks, troops with Headquarters and
Headquarters Company, 1st Cavalry Division’s surgeon
section in Baghdad experience this kind of mini-
drama, mimicking scenes of televised Texas No-Limit
Hold ’Em tournament coverage on DVD.
David “KGZ” Zimmerman, medical operations officer
for the 1st Cavalry Division, knows all the angles.
The key to no-limit is to play the man, not the
the KGZ gets in poker mode, he pulls out all the
stops. He has a baseball cap pulled down low and
some black wraparound shades he’ll wear in the
pitch of night to ensure no one plays him.
Cav guys call Hold ’Em the Cadillac of poker.
a game that takes 30 seconds to learn and lifetime
to master,” said Lt. Col. Roberto “Smooth Operator”
Nang, the division surgeon, whose tactic is to
up the ante just to test the water.
started playing downrange after the KGZ wrote
to the World Poker Tour and some Las Vegas casinos.
Simple letters got the captain 400 decks of cards
donated to the troops from the MGM Grand and Aladdin
casinos, five free sets of the first season of
the World Poker Tour, and a
box of casino chips from www.oldvegaschips.com.
a cheap, white plastic table, the KGZ begins to
deal. Just behind the troops, scenes of Vegas
and the Bellagio dance across a television screen.
it wasn’t for the missing green felt tables and
tinkling of ice cubes, the KGZ’s air-conditioned
trailer could be mistaken for a casino in the
middle of a different desert.
forgetting the earlier banter of trash talkin’,
the game starts quietly as everyone peeks at their
cards. These high rollers try to make the game
as real as possible when they get the chance to
play. The stakes are high.
gambling is not authorized, per Army regulation,
what these rounders win is so much better: bragging
rights, the honor of being called “Johnny Chan,”
a two-time World Series of Poker champion, including
a framed mug of the legend to keep until the next
game, and exclusion from having to buy the next
round of refreshments and snacks.
the medical crew plays twice a month, depending
on workload, according to Maj. Jim “Diamond Jim”
Kelley, chief of medical plans and operations.
Jim said when the time is finally right to get
the game going, the trash talkin’ begins around
Colonel (Smooth Operator) is a good poker player
in his own right,” Diamond Jim offered, “but he’s
also got one of the fastest records for being
asked to leave the table. He’s lost all his chips
in just two hands.”
the banter progresses throughout the day until
everyone gets off work.
winner of the last game hosts the evening’s event
in their trailer. This time’s winner is a laid-back
guy named Sgt. 1st Class Steven “Sgt. Harley”
Plante, the medical intelligence noncommissioned
officer in charge.
not a trash talker, but more of a one-liner, throwing
in jabs when necessary, just to keep his competitors
three guys,” Harley said, pointing to KGZ, Smooth
Operator and Diamond Jim, “are the biggest trash
talkers. Sometimes you have to stand on a chair
it get so deep in here.”
Harley said the night he won several weeks ago
was a typical poker night in the hooch, just struggling
along, but then his luck changed and he took it
but one player, Sgt. 1st Class Buddy “Die Hard”
Beavers, has had the opportunity to be Johnny
Chan. Die Hard, medical operation noncommissioned
officer in charge, blames it on not being able
to attend as many games as he would like.
truth is, no one in the medical unit plays as
much as they would like.
are no weekends, no hours, per se,” Diamond Jim
said. He explained that in their section they
work around the clock and are always on call.
the harrowing work schedule, the Smooth Operator
said from a medical standpoint it actually makes
sense to play cards.
one, it’s important not to be isolated, lonely,
or depressed out here. By coming together we share
in camaraderie,” said Smooth Operator. “Number
two, in terms of an outlet for stress and other
relief, playing games or cards, from a morale
and welfare point of view, is very therapeutic.”
troops work hard by helping Iraqi hospitals and
clinics get back on their feet, all the while
still taking care of troops.
also play hard.
Jim said they’re just some guys who like to keep
score, no matter what they’re doing.
said all the competition actually helps the poker
posse function better together as a team and keep
the deployment from becoming a daily grind.
the KGZ hunkered down in his guise, Diamond Jim
with an almost constant smirk on his face, the
Smooth Operator instigating trouble, Sgt. Harley
soaking it all in, and Die Hard shooting for the
prize, the sounds of clinking poker chips resonates
into the Iraqi desert, but in this room, the dreams
don’t end and the sand turns to gold.
just a game that keeps one office from getting
burned out when deployed.
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