For any Defence member who has worked at, or passed through, Joint Task Force (JTF) 633’s Camp Baird in the Middle East, there is one institution they are likely to have visited.
And that’s the coffee shop Bean Around the MEAO.
Owner Aileen Stoddart has become an honorary member of Australia’s operational force, so much so that Commander JTF 633 Major General Susan Coyle presented her with an Aussie Hero Quilt on November 8.
“The quilt is a wonderful token of appreciation and I’m completely blown away that people put this together for me. It’s amazing,” Ms Stoddart said.
Her link with JTF 633 began in 2011 when she was recommended to the ADF’s Middle East logistics and base support services' provider, Serco.
“I owned a local coffee shop and one of my regular suppliers mentioned me to Serco who were looking for a vendor to place under contract,” Ms Stoddart said.
“My supplier said to them that he had found the person they were looking for and, next thing, I’m being asked when I could start.”
Beginning as a small hut, the past nine years has seen the coffee shop expand into a building with indoor seating and a reading lounge with jigsaws and games.
“I have met so many wonderful people and made an incredible amount of friends,” Ms Stoddart said.
Ms Stoddart has travelled to Australia five times, weaving her way from Perth to Sydney, to meet some of those people.
“Years ago, I bought a map and people started marking where they were from,” Ms Stoddart said.
“Next thing, they are handing me invitations to come to Australia and stay with them”.
Ms Stoddart was quick to acknowledge her dedicated team who have served more than 820,000 cuppas, not to mention the milkshakes and distinctly Australian treats like Tim Tams.
“My team is absolutely the best and they are very much a big part of our success here at Camp Baird,” Ms Stoddart said.
With mugs monogrammed with the names of regulars, and a menu that includes signature drinks created by personnel, the coffee shop run by Ms Stoddart and her team is guaranteed to remain a much-loved social hub.
“I think it is safe to say we have become part of the fixtures here,” Ms Stoddart said.