Snuggled at the base of a mountain range snaking along the Afghan-Pakistan border is a secret U.S. military base with an even more secret mission. “I can’t tell you exactly where I am,” an anonymous soldier, who works the graveyard shift at the installation, tells us. “What I can [say] is that when I leave work every morning, I’m greeted by the most magnificent sunrises over the Hindu Kush mountains.”
Discretion is a must for the hidden operations base not only because of the potential backlash from the Pentagon for detailing information and strategy, but also because the Taliban is alive and well — and still creating chaos and casualties for the fragile new democracy (and American men and women in uniform) in Afghanistan.
Yet for our soldier, it isn't all war games, violence and abject dedication to military code. There is some downtime, they explain, when soldiers attempt to make the desolate landscape remind them more of home. And for this base, a wayward cannabis plant was just the thing. This is a story about growing weed in a war zone, from the mouths of those who are over there doing it.
“When I first got here, there was a ceasefire in place that was quickly broken by the Taliban — they broke it horribly when they attacked [the city of] Ghazni, a bloody and tragic affair,” the soldier explains. Indeed, the secret location has come under indirect fire on several occasions in the past few weeks alone — 10 in the days leading up to this interview, they say. “Despite what happened with the last ceasefire, President Ghani decided to move forward with a second ceasefire and peace talks, which was a smart political move on his end because if it’s honored, it’ll last through the elections and he’ll get re-elected.”
According to the soldier, the Taliban is operating on the sly to get around the rules of the ceasefire. “If they attack us without anyone knowing it was them, they can claim innocence while still inflicting mass casualties, and we can’t retaliate.” The U.S. military installation is able to easily track the source locations of the attacks (because, technology), but because of a clever method of detonation, the U.S. is unable to prove to the government of Afghanistan that these attacks are coming from the Taliban.
“In order to pull that off, they rig the weapons system with a block of ice. When the ice melts and is no longer there, the lack of weight triggers the weapon system,” says the soldier.
Despite the chaos of ‘anonymous’ indirect fire sent by the Taliban and the constant dangers our young soldiers face, they’ve added a level of normal to the daily grind that seems appropriate to the rest of us in the states — they’ve gotten into “farming.” And not just any crop, these top guns are feeling the need, the need for weed!
“We all saw the male plant growing alone by the side of the building,” the soldier says. And like lonely soldiers in unfamiliar places, a single pot plant isn’t going to have much fun. “It was starting to yellow, so I tried to buy some aspirin for it but there was no aspirin to be found.”
Aspirin is dangerous in a conflict zone because it prevents blood from clotting and an injured soldier could bleed out. So the resourceful soldier went to the medics office and was told they couldn’t dispense the drug. “After explaining that it wasn't for me, they became curious about my less than open plans for aspirin, so I explained how it can help plants. They soon realized both what I needed it for and that I was the one of the people caring for the lonely male cannabis plant.”
The following day the medics found the soldier at work and handed over a large, unopened bottle of aspirin, which they got from another group of medics. Earlier, as the soldier learned, when the original medics went on the hunt for some Bayer, they were also told that they couldn’t have aspirin.
Suddenly a unit-wide effort, the original medics, in turn, had the same conversation with the new medics as the soldier had previous day: “Do it for plants!” The new medics were pleased with the reasoning for why it was needed (the weed was a group effort by this point) and they immediately handed over the bottle.
Caring for the cannabis plant wasn’t initially a means to an end, it was a therapeutic reminder of home for the soldier. “My parents were [legal] pot farmers and it’d become fairly common knowledge that I’d been caring for the harmless male ‘leaf baby,’” the soldier explains. “One day a friend left the base and returned with a badly mangled piece of a pot plant he stuffed into his pocket.” The returning serviceman held out the limp body of the cannabis plant and asked the soldier, "What can you do with this?"
Years of emergency medical training and an instinct for nursing the injured back to their fighting weight immediately kicked in. “I told him that first and foremost, it needed some water, an immediate life preserving action, human or hemp. Water wasn't going to save it, but it would at least slow it's death.” After letting the cannabis plant sit in the water for a few hours, the soldier inspected the poor dying “baby” and found the least damaged segment, with the most young leaves, and made a cutting.
With all the military efficiency of a secret ops commando, the soldier explains what happened next, “I made a 45 degree angle cut, scraped down the bottom of the stem to allow more surface area for roots to sprout, and trimmed off all the damage branches and leaves. When she was ready, I placed her in water mixed with a makeshift rooting hormone.” [hint: it involved aspirin]
After a day of soaking up the much needed nutrients the female plant was looking better so the soldier made a crude greenhouse out of a water bottle; fashioning it so that it opened along the middle for easy access with holes punched into the top around the neck. American ingenuity at its finest!
“She is now happily perched in a window sill, soaking up sun rays and vital nutrients inside her greenhouse while she begins to grow roots, making her a plant all her own,” the soldier says with tenderness. “She will no longer be a half-dead segment of another plant, snatched from her home by a passing soldier who was missing his home — she’ll be her own girl!” Once the female plant is strong enough, the soldiers will find a sunny spot outside to replant her. “She will flourish!” says the soldier with confidence.
While no soldier in the secret unit is dumb enough to risk trying to harvest and smoke the plants, the new family of fauna provides a glimmer of joy in the windy, barren land. Many soldiers have noticed the male in his location and he’s become a meetup spot: "Sounds good Joe, 1500? Cool, we'll meet at the weed plant,” they say to one another.
“I'll find her a spot some distance from her male counterpart in hopes that other people will see me watering her and join in,” says the soldier with a tinge of unfamiliar yet earned optimism. “She’ll provide the same amount of entertainment and joy that the male has in this bleak place — for us and the soldiers who are stationed here after us.”
“In such a high tempo environment, working 12-18 hours a day, every day, and the constant threat of attack from the shitty Taliban that’s ignoring a ceasefire, joy comes from what we can find,” the soldier begins to wrap-up, signaling our interview is nearly over. “The occasional cigar with the guys, someone putting on a song that we all somehow know the words to, sitting on the roof to watch the sunrise over a mountain range on the other side of the world [from home] and, of course, the novelty of caring for a family of pot plants — for being a bleak place, it's an experience worth having.”
As the interview closes, the soldier has one parting thought about the importance of the pot plants to American men and women in uniform while stationed in such a far away, chaotic and dangerous place.
“It’s the little things that count.”