Small plant gives hope at COP Chicago

19 Aug 2007 | Sgt. Andy Hurt 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Without question, the desert can be a barren, unforgiving place. Not only is the landscape stripped of foliage, the mind is left to long for the green coastline and hills of Southern California. Here at Combat Outpost Chicago, however, the longing for “green” among Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines personnel has been pacified with the chance growth of a tiny green plant.

The plant was noticed by Marines Aug. 14, following a mortar attack on the base. In the confusing aftermath and struggle to get protective gear on, a voice was heard the chaos: “Hey, is that a plant?”

“Whoa, there’s a plant growing over there!”

Marines gathered around the tiny sprout to investigate the four to five inches of growth above the rocky sand of origin.

A small green stalk with two little leaves on top, the plant has yet to be identified - although there is plenty of speculation. Perhaps a sunflower or tobacco plant, as the ground of some living areas are littered with. Maybe even a kool-aid plant, because it sprouted directly beneath a box of powdered drink mix. More likely, however, it is a watermelon vine, planted by a Marine discarding the seed while enjoying the fruit (which locals here sell at marketplaces).

Whatever the plant may be, there is no question to the effect of the surprise growth – a shimmer of hope in a place where the darkest emotions can dwell.

“That thing just gives me hope!” exclaimed one Marine. “I mean, this is such a miserable place where nothing grows … it reminds me of something … I just miss green.”

The caring nature of the Marines has taken over, and there is talk of moving the plant to a better location, where there is less danger of someone stepping on it.

Countering the plan, another Marine said the plant is “fine where it is” – that it “grew there for a reason.”

“You can’t uproot the plant,” he said, “it was made to grow there.”

“No,” said the other. “It needs more sunlight.”

“The plant is growing toward the sunlight, that’s what they do … you better not move it.”

“Well I’m going to water that thing every chance I get,” proclaimed the would-be mover.

Iraqi interpreters have come to look at the plant, and say it reminds them of the grass near the Euphrates River.

“It makes me wish to go there,” said “Andy,” a BLT 3/1 language interpreter.

The anonymity of the plant somehow represents the broad spectrum of homeland features Marines miss most. In one Marine’s mind, it could be a strawberry plant, for another, it could be a blade of Kentucky Bluegrass.

The fact is Marines miss home. This tiny plant, this vulnerable representation of loneliness and happiness which has grown beautifully from dust and made its way into the Marine’s lives, has become nothing less than a factor of motivation as the Battalion continues counterinsurgency operations here.

For more information about Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and the warriors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, visit the unit’s Web site at

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit