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Big green monster takes a green thumb

31 Mar 2006 | Cpl. William Skelton

Cpl. Matthew A. Matosich might just be losing it.  He’s been in Iraq a little more than two months and he’s already cracking up.  Take for instance his latest odd activity.  He’s talking to plants.

Matosich’s newest friend is “Bob,” a plant he and a few other Marines from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment’s combat operations center named.  They’ve nursed Bob from a dust-choked scrub shrub to a blooming, vibrant … well, shrub.  It’s nothing less than a source of pride for the misplaced horticulturalists who frequent Bob’s home in the smoke pit.

“Bob has become a presence in the smoke pit,” said Matosich, a 24-year-old administrative clerk from San Diego. “And a welcomed presence at that.”

Bob’s beginnings with the battalion were meek and desolate like the surroundings in which he was discovered. But through the vigilant watch of a few Marines with imagination and heart, the small desert plant has become a fixture for the smokers and non-smokers alike in the building.

Bob became a fixture when the Marines found him after they relieved the previous battalion.  He was struggling to sink roots and reach for the sun.  Problem was, Bob wasn’t getting good attention.  He was being fed a daily ration of dirty mop water.

“It looked like they really didn’t care about the plant,” Matosich said.  “He was almost dead.”

Bob has a place in the line of chairs that run along the sandbag walls of the Marines’ smoke pit. In the short time they’ve been here, they’ve charted his growth and progress.

“Bob changed from a small plant with one little bloom to a flourishing bush full of leaves and new blossoms,” said Lance Cpl. Steven J. Kalchik, a 22-year-old administrative clerk from Buffalo, N.Y.

“There is no special meaning for Bob’s name, it just came out of thin air,” Kalchik said. “I was talking to another Marine one day and when I referred to the bush, I called him Bob.”

The Marines know that they’re pet shrub is quirky.  They know it doesn’t meet the expectations most have of Marines.  Green thumbs don’t exactly match up to desert camouflaged uniforms.  Still, they take pride in their endeavor.

“Marines take up little pet projects to help the time pass,” Matosich explained. “It helps us to take our minds off work for a few minutes everyday and appreciate life.”

In the middle of all the rifle toting and desolation of the camp, Bob is a lone symbol of beauty.  For some, it’s a reminder that amidst the loneliness and ugliness that is war, there is always something of value.

“That’s the way my wife is for me,” said Lance Cpl. Curtis J. Flood, the 19-year-old battalion maintenance management chief from Portland, Ore. “In all the stress and chaos of life, she is like my little rose in the desert.” 

None of the Marines claim to be professionals when it comes to the nurturing it takes to make a plant grow. Most are glad that Bob is native to this land and seems to handle himself.

“I don’t have a green thumb of any kind,” Kalchik said. “So it’s good Bob is not a ‘TLC’ kind of plant.”

Instead, they see him as one of theirs.  He’s a little rough around the edges, doing his best to make it in a rough line of work.

“He’s become one of the guys in the smoke pit,” Kalichek added.  “There aren’t many times I go out there that Bob doesn’t come up in conversation.”

Bob’s even sort of become a mascot for everything Marines are trying to do for Iraq.  They protect the plant, nurture it and eventually know they’ll leave and let it continue to grow on it’s own.

“If Bob flourishes I will feel like I was part of giving something new life,” Matosich said.

“Bob is going to be on his own once we leave,” Kalchik said. “Hopefully the next people who come along will appreciate Bob as much as we do.”