Soldier, civilian united by green thumbs
July 22, 2009
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - A splash of green. It's the first thing that strikes a visitor when he sees Chief Warrant Officer 3 David M. Craig's containerized housing unit-a splash of green in a sea of uniformity.
Every other containerized housing unit, or CHU, looks the same:
whitewashed, little rooms entombed by walls of crumbling green and brown sandbags, dirt and concrete t-walls. But Craig's CHU is different, flanked and surrounded by verdant gardens-a splash of green. A support operations officer with 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) from Fort Knox, Ky., Craig said he took up gardening in Iraq for the challenge, and to help cope with stress from work and the deployment, which is the fifth of his military career.
"Evaporation's going to be your biggest enemy," said the native of Big Clifty, Ky. The soil here is not very good at retaining water due to the heat, a challenge even Iraqi farmers must contend with, he said. Taking a cue from his Iraqi counterparts, Craig, who was gardening since he was a child, designed and built his own pots with an underground irrigation system-PVC pipes with holes drilled at intervals.
A layer of rocks and sand at the bottom helped to drain water when it did rain. Craig said he went around the base looking for decent soil, and eventually found it when someone was digging out trenches. "And believe it or not, the soil underneath where the trash collects is rich in nutrients," he said. Lettuce, coffee grounds and banana peels were layered into the soil to provide even more nutrients for the plants.
Squash, green beans, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, corn, peppers and watermelon were just some of the vegetables Craig said he was able to grow. Aside for sunflowers, though, decorative flowers proved too delicate to the heat. Craig spent an hour and half every day watering his plants, he built nets to keep away birds, and used soap dish water and water mixed with cayenne pepper to kill insects.
John and Densie Allred of Harriman, Tenn., provided many of the gardening tools Craig needed. A veteran of the Navy, John said he knows the importance of a personal connection to America, especially for a deployed service member. "We're very proud to have made friends with [Craig], and we plan to continue staying in contact and supporting him in the future," John wrote in an email.
The couple, who has their own garden, plans to support another service member when Craig returns to the U.S. The most rewarding aspect of his garden, Craig said, are the vegetables he was able to grow and eat. He plans to harvest his corn and grill them during the 4th of July. A civilian contractor will take custody of Craig's garden.
A vegetarian, the civilian will use the plants to supplement his own diet. Craig said he couldn't hope to find a better person to bestow his garden to, and he's glad to see it will still be in use after he leaves Iraq. "We hope other service members will follow his example and do the same," John wrote. "Gardening is rewarding and relaxing."