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Cigar aficionados boost camaraderie, esprit de corps

OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa (Jun 16, 2006) -- Dense clouds of smoke slowly rise to the ceiling of the dimly lit room, filling it with a foggy haze as 30 cigar lovers talk, laugh and smoke the night away.

The atmosphere was mellow as a local cigar and whiskey society hosted its inaugural event, the Sunset Smoke Dinner and Cigar Exchange, at Hotel Grand Mer's Sheesah Lounge June 10.

The purpose of the event was to bring together a group of diverse individuals in order to enjoy fellowship through cigars, according to Capt. Richard Wilkerson, the president of the society and cigar aficionado.

"Cigars have been a big part of my life," Wilkerson said. "Smoking cigars gives you time to reflect on your life. It's a break from the 16-hour workdays that we - as Marines - often complete."

The event started with a cigar exchange followed by opening remarks from the society's president.

"The rain gods are obviously more powerful than the fire gods tonight," said Wilkerson, as the rain poured outside the lounge.

However, the rain couldn't put a damper on the evening as the cigars burned and the stories got more and more laughs.

The idea for the society originated within the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters staff, according to Wilkerson. Over the past year, Wilkerson and Sgt. Maj. John Prado, a fellow cigar enthusiast, talked frequently about bringing people who share similar interests together.

During Marine Corps events and exercises, the two Marines often smoked cigars and shared their smoking experiences and knowledge. As time passed, they noticed several Marines began to join the impromptu smoking sessions, so they devised a way to bring these enthusiasts together and the society was formed.

Cigars are a part of celebratory history and are often smoked to commemorate a special event or the birth of a child.

"People smoke cigars during life changing events," said Maj. Gen. George J. Trautman III. "It's a tradition for mess nights and the Marine Corps Ball."

Maj. Gen. Trautman said he not only attended the event for the cigars but also for the company.

"The enthusiasm of Capt. Wilkerson and Sgt. Maj. Prado got me here," he said. "I enjoy being around Marines socializing and enjoying life. I wanted to share the esprit and camaraderie."

While this was the first step in what Wilkerson hopes to become a monthly or quarterly occurrence, he encourages those with an interest to join the society.

"We would like to see a melting pot in our group including military, civilian and (Okinawans)," he said. "Over the next six months, I expect to see the interest grow. Any group that comes together in a social environment reaches a different plateau of understanding."

Source: U.S. Marine Corps Bases Japan