Helping Those Who've Sacrificed for Us

It's a bit rare - unprecedented perhaps - that Smoke would showcase an individual cigar company here on this page, a space that is typically reserved for commentary, observations, or a call to action. But one could say that each of those criteria are indeed met in explaining the numerous meanings behind "sentinels."

The story of Sentinel Cigars is more than just the debut of a premium cigar; Sentinel Cigars isn't your typical cigar company. It exists for one sole purpose: to contribute financially to the important efforts of the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation (sentinelsoffreedom.org), a non-profit organization that provides a unique program of support for wounded and injured former members of the United States Armed Forces.

Cigar makers - and many cigar smokers in general - are a generous lot by nature, so it's no surprise that there are so many worthy causes that benefit from the philanthropic efforts of cigar makers.

Yet, Sentinel Cigars stands out. A full 100 percent of its proceeds - not just a mere slice - benefit the Sentinels directly.

The Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation was created by the father of three Army Rangers, Mike Conklin, of San Ramon, Calif., after one of his own sons was injured in Iraq in 2003. Conklin was impressed by the level of care his son received in military hospitals, but was concerned over the plight of those wounded warriors who were without families or community networks to support them after their release from the service. Conklin's early efforts to do something meaningful to support U.S. troops ultimately evolved into Sentinels. The program is meant to assist veterans with severe service-related injuries to become independent and successful members of society. Scholarship recipients are called "Sentinels" in honor of their sacrifice and commitment to guarding America's freedom.

Conklin explains that the program connects permanently disabled veterans with caring community volunteers who pool their resources to provide four years of housing, an accessible vehicle, a suitable job and ongoing community support, as well as self-sufficiency services.

The group has established local chapters throughout the country, and its services are in high demand: all of its resources for 2014 are already committed. Conklin is passionate about "bridging the gap" in assisting veterans returning home, a desire to acknowledge the legions of Americans who have served selflessly in America's armed services to protect our way of life.

"When they come home broken and bent, we can do more than say 'It's the government's responsibility,'" says Conklin.

The Sentinel Little Havana Series cigar (sentinelcigars.com) was inspired by Navy Seal Ryan Job, who was blinded by sniper fire while providing covering fire for his unit during a firefight in Iraq. Medically retired from the Navy, he became the first Sentinel in the Arizona chapter of the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation. He had successfully attained all of his credits for his BS degree and had been hired by General Dynamics, but died suddenly due to complications from reconstructive surgery. Ryan's wife was expecting the couple's first child at the time.

Honoring Ryan Job, Sentinel Little Havana Series debuted in summer 2012 as a 6 x 52 toro crafted by the highly regard boutique maker El Titan de Bronze in Little Havana, Miami. It's a medium- to full-strength blend of Nicaraguan fillers and binder that's finished with an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. A 5 x 50 robusto followed, and this past fall a third shape was added, a 6 x 52 torpedo that Sentinel Cigar president Michael Norton says was blended just a bit stronger than the other two shapes. The cigars are a limited production: only 10,000 sticks of each size are being released. They are available in boxes of ten or 20 cigars or in bundles of 20, and retail for about $11 each.

"Ryan was a great American, a true hero, faithful husband, terrific human being, and would have been a fantastic father," says Norton. While Sentinel Cigars honor Job's memory, their sale helps continue the very same Sentinel Scholarship opportunities for others that Jobs found invaluable during his own transition back to civilian live.

- E.E.H.

SMOKE Volume 18, Issue 2


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