How a local energy drink became an icon of the Iraq War
One day in 2012, while Janelle Awdish Cochran was working at her mother's paper supply company in Michigan, a client...
One day in 2012, while Janelle Awdish Cochran was working at her mother's paper supply company in Michigan, a client arrived with one of his employees, a former Army soldier named Vincent. It was summer and the men were thirsty.
Fortunately, a family friend had just given Cochran a case of an energy drink from the Middle East. The drink was encased in a slender eight-ounce, red and black can emblazoned with the image of a poorly drawn tiger and the words TOTAL ACTIVATION. It didn't look like much, but it packed a powerful punch.
The family friend wanted Cochran's help gauging local interest in the drink, called Wild Tiger, because he was thinking about introducing it to the U.S. market. At the time, it was sold almost exclusively in the Middle East.
Vincent's jaw dropped when Cochran handed him a can. “Oh my god,” he whispered. “How did you get this stuff?” He gulped it down, and then asked for another. As his pupils dilated and his cheeks took on a pinkish hue, Vincent explained that he'd been searching for Wild Tiger ever since he returned from Iraq years ago.
“He was crazy for it,” Cochran recalled in an interview with Task & Purpose.
After Cochran relayed Vincent's reaction to her family friend, he put a few cases of Wild Tiger on Amazon. They sold out immediately.
An American soldier gets his Wild Tiger fix in Iraq.
It's been called liquid cocaine and Adderall in a can. It's rumored to contain a potent mix of mysterious black-market ingredients that rot a person's body from within while imbuing him or her with supernatural powers, including the ability to maintain intense focus on days without sleep.
So it's no surprise Wild Tiger became the go-to beverage for many American soldiers who deployed to Iraq, where it's ubiquitous in markets and cafes from Basra to Mosul. Often, soldiers would return to base from patrol with a few cases of “Wild T” in tow, preferring it over the inferior stuff available in the chow halls.
Over time, what canned beer was to the American G.I.s of Vietnam, Wild Tiger became for many of the men and women serving in the Middle East. But in this case, when the U.S. troops returned home from Iraq, the drink they had developed an unquenchable thirst for while at war was nowhere to be found.
In 2012, Cochran set off to change that. After her encounter with Vincent, the Army veteran, she ordered a 20-foot container of Wild Tiger from her family friend, who happened to be the brother of the Wild Tiger CEO, an Iraqi man currently running the company out of Amman, Jordan.
Though she was born and raised in Michigan, Cochran identifies as Chaldean, the Catholic sect of ethnic Christians who have inhabited Mesopotamia since the first century. Her family immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq 50 years ago.
Photo courtesy of Janelle C.
Cochran is extremely supportive of the American military, partly due to the fact that Chaldeans have long been targeted by the same Islamic extremists the United States has been at war with since the fall of Saddam.
“I'd love to visit Iraq but I can't,” she said. “ISIS would kill me.”
Cochran believed that by bringing Wild Tiger to the States she would be doing her small part to support the troops. To her happy surprise, the response from the military community was immediate and flooring. Soon, her inbox was flooded with emails from veterans expressing their gratitude.
“It was a good feeling,” she said. “The soldiers loved it and I just had so much pride selling it. Putting a smile on their faces was the least I could do.”
It didn't take long for Cochran to realize that Wild Tiger was more than an energy drink. For many of her customers, it was deeply emblematic of their experience at war. This became overwhelmingly apparent on Cochran's Amazon account, which exploded with hundreds of comments brimming with cult-like enthusiasm for the drink.
“Wild Tiger saved my life! This drink is pretty much responsible for keeping me awake while serving in Iraq 2006-2007. Goes down smooth, picks you up like cocaine, and doesn't make you jittery,” wrote one customer. “Heat to 120 degrees for the full authentic experience.”
“Wild Tiger is the combat proven liquid energy grenade that allows soldiers to see sounds (!!) Stay awake for 3 days (without the inconvenience of blinking!!!) smell explosives (and beat them into submission!). Tastes like you're drinking acid, but once the pain fades you will know the power of a GOD,” wrote another.
Commenter Joshua A. Wynings summed it up perfectly: “[Wild Tiger] tastes like (Operation Iraqi) freedom.”
Over the next few years, Cochran sold an average of one 20-foot container worth of Wild Tiger every six months, during which time she developed a deep appreciation for Wild Tiger herself.
“It truly is like Adderall in a can,” she said. “It's half the size of a Monster or a Rockstar, but the level and focus it gives you is just incredible. Maybe that's because it's made with real sugar.”
Cochran stopped selling Wild Tiger about a year ago, following a dispute with a business partner, which she would not discuss with Task & Purpose.
Still, thanks to Cochran, Wild Tiger remains available for purchase in the States on Amazon. And it's inexpensive: $32.99 (plus shipping and handling) for a case of 24 cans.
That's about one-fourth the price of Red Bull, and a small price to pay for something that, in the words of one savvy Amazon commenter, makes a person “pee excellence and sweat victory.”