AL ASAD, Iraq -- When Staff Sgt. Ed R. Tarbutton and his squadron arrived in Iraq they first noticed the absence of vegetation, and a climate unlike the eastern United States. After a couple of months on the ground here Tarbutton devised a plan to spruce of the environment … one small piece of ground at a time.
About four months ago Tarbutton, the quality assurance chief with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, received his first package of garden seeds in the mail. Since that time he and two of his neighbors have given life to the earth surrounding their small living quarters.
It’s taken several months and a little tender love and care, but the Marines now see the fruits, vegetables and flowers of their labor: habanera peppers, jalapeno peppers, sunflowers, tomatoes, and wild flowers.
“We also planted peas,” said the Coatesville, Pa., native, “but the mice ate them.”
The flora adds a surprising texture to the Iraqi landscape the Marines see here everyday. When many Marines are asked, “What do you miss most about home,” the common answer is “grass.”
“These are possibly the only green plants on Al Asad,” he said jokingly. “We sometimes refer to it as our botanical garden, except no one pays admission. Just having something green around is nice to come home to at the end of the day.”
Growing vegetables and flowers isn’t an easy task in the desert. To stimulate the process, the ‘green thumb’ Marine made a makeshift greenhouse from an old storage box and clear plastic. Once the foliage established itself it came time to transplant and see how the plants faired.
“This climate is horrible for gardening,” he said. “During daylight the plants wilt, but at night they straighten up. If we let them go without water for more than a day they would die.”
Tarbutton admits that he doesn’t fancy himself as the green thumb type. He never intended on producing anything from the plants, and he considers himself lucky, considering the harsh Iraqi climate. As he reaches the end of his deployment he hopes that new Marines moving in will tend to the vegetation, but he’s looking forward to the green grass of home.