Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Marines Develop a Dip with 'Ooh-rah!'

The idea came like a bolt. Or maybe it came from a Jolt, as in the energy drink. A few months ago, two Marines waiting in line at a base exchange saw troops buying cases of chewing tobacco and energy drinks. They saw a new tobacco container, too. Waterproof. What's next, one Marine joked to his friend. An energy dip? Their eyes grew wide. They snickered. Then they laughed. Inside their car, they chatted up the idea. Guys fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan chew. Too dangerous to smoke where a glowing ember could signal a position. But those 20-hour shifts can cause major fatigue. Unless ... What if they could lace chewing tobacco with caffeine? They found a Web site for tobacco chewers "where dippers meet." Had anybody heard of this before? Would anybody be interested in chew with a kick? "They went crazy," said Cpl. Steven Rundel, 26, of Louisburg, Kan., a fourth-generation Marine who is an aviation mechanic on fighter jets based at Beaufort, S.C. "We had to move on it." Short on cash, Rundel charged the patent on his credit card. He and his buddy, Cpl. Matthew Doran, 34, of Lexington, Mass., scratched out a business plan. They found a tobacco entrepreneur, who found a tobacco company -- Southern Smokeless Tobacco.They call their new smokeless tobacco Revved Up. It's infused with "energy elements" similar to Red Bull. Prototypes came in two flavors: straight and wintergreen. The two Marines know about the dangers of tobacco. "But we're doing this because our boys in Iraq are already doing it," Rundel said. Chewing "is something they enjoy. And this might help them stay alive." They keep hearing they have a winner. But the reality check for Rundel was the judgment of his father, Dan Rundel of Louisburg, a longtime chewing man. A man whose back jeans pocket has a permanent ring from his chew. A man who doesn't like fancy. Just taste. His verdict? "The flavor was very good, and surprisingly enough, I took a dip and immediately felt a buzz," he said. "That caffeine helped me focus in." Next month, the two Marines will be sending their product, along with their hopes, to a national trade show for convenience stores. Will their dreams go up in smoke? Dan Rundel doesn't think so. "We're all still in a state of shock about the fast pace that this has had. In a little less than a year, not many dreams can be fully formed. "But this one is headed that way."

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