story and photos by Skip Hudson
From the first moment word leaked out that my unit might be deployed to the Middle East, I had the hope of finding cheap hash there and smoking it out of a hookah with the locals. And while that never exactly came about, I did find plenty of hash. What follows is one soldier’s account of what it’s like to be high in Iraq.
I joined the military in 1993, back when the thought of invading and occupying a Middle Eastern nation would have blown most people’s minds. I had just graduated from college with a degree that was more fun to get than practical towards getting a job, and I could not afford to spend months looking for work. I was engaged and my fiancÃ©e was pregnant, so we needed to find a gig that would offer health care for the baby. I’d always been a regular pot smoker from high school through college, but once I enlisted I quit smoking and didn’t really miss it that much amid all my new responsibilities.
Prior to my departure for Iraq, I was no longer on active duty, but when the war drums started beating I found myself suddenly retained by the kind of back-door stop-loss measures that represent the last steps our military can take to maintain manpower before instituting a draft. When we started getting ready to deploy, I returned to the herb, on the assumption that the Army wouldn’t want to drug-test soldiers—and risk losing them—right before shipping them off to a war zone. As I figured, we did not have drug tests in our unit before the deployment and never had them in Iraq.
From the start, I felt we were going to war mainly for reasons the administration won’t admit. Still, soldiers over there can always know they have done some good for people, and that they did their jobs well even if those who sent them over to Iraq did not do theirs.
When we first drove through the country, the streets were lined with people cheering and kids giving the thumbs-up sign. I met a man who had spent time in prison because he didn’t want to coach a state soccer team for some paltry sum of money. In prison, he’d been beaten so badly he lost an eye. I gave him a picture of a soldier pissing on one of Iraq’s many Saddam monuments and he almost cried.
As time went on, however, I saw things change, and now I feel we’ve worn out our welcome. You can’t put 150,000 mainly 18- to 22-year-old military personnel anyplace on Earth and not expect them to do stupid things. So many innocent people have been caught in the crossfire that any positive returns are quickly diminishing. You can only park an M1 tank in someone’s front yard for so long before they get pissed. By the time I left, nobody was lining the streets to cheer us on. Instead, they were hiding in the woods and shooting at us.