Marines patrol through poppy blossoms in Afghanistan’s Kajaki district

Marines patrolling poppy field in Afghanistan

Cpl. Joshua Leary, left, and Cpl. Alexander Prasil patrol through the poppy fields near the Helmand River in Kajaki, Afghanistan, on April 18. Marines from Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines operate out of Patrol Base Sheheban, a joint position with Afghan National Civil Order Police and provides security near one of a few area river crossings. (James J. Lee / Staff)

PATROL BASE SHEHEBAN, Afghanistan –- I can say it from experience now: patrolling through the poppy fields of Helmand province is every bit as distracting as I had been warned.

The beautiful poppy blossoms leap out at anyone passing. The flowers — ranging in color from white and pink to a deep, rich rose — stand nearly waist high, and will likely remain in bloom for at least another week. As the blossoms shrivel, farmers will score the remaining bulbs and collect the fluid oozing out. The product is developed into heroin and other opium-based drugs — something that isn’t legal in Afghanistan, and yet the main cash crop for the country.

Photographer James Lee and I arrived on this patrol base this morning, making the move from Forward Operating Base Whitehouse, the headquarters in Helmand’s Kajaki district for 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

It’s a trip complicated by geography. Route 611, the main road in the region, runs northeast up the east side of the Helmand River, but the Marines are also concerned about insurgent activity on the other side of the water. To push the Taliban farther away, they established Sheheban, Observation Post Levy and a couple other outposts that have since been turned over to Afghan forces.

To get to Sheheban, we took a small steel motorboat manned by an Afghan across the Helmand River. It was slightly alarming at first, given the rudimentary nature of the craft. The boats are used regularly by Marines and Afghans alike, however, and ferry everything from livestock to vehicles.

On the other side, elements of Weapons Company 1/8 man Sheheban and Levy. Firefights have not been frequent recently, but the region is littered with improvised explosive devices, said Staff Sgt. Albert Hayes, the platoon sergeant for Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, which has elements based at both outposts. In one March 23 IED strike, a squad leader, a corpsman and an interpreter were hit, Hayes said. They all survived, but were pulled from the battlefield with shrapnel wounds, lacerations and other injuries.

The names of the two Marine bases on this side of the water underscore the extremes in Helmand province. Sheheban was named by Afghan forces, and means “beautiful” in Arabic, Hayes said. Levy was named after Lance Cpl. Christopher Levy, a member of Lejeune’s 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, who shot Dec. 7 nearby and died three days later.

We left the wire with CAAT-2 Marines today, patrolling for several hours through fields and villages. Stay tuned for more images and dispatches in coming days.


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. There they are playing DEA Agents really what is the mission there? Drug enforcement now? Fucking unsat man! I wish I was in that POPPY field though I would be feeling gooooddddd!!!!!! And rich. SEMPER CHIVA…………..

  2. At what point in that article did the author make ANY mention or imply in anyway, that Marines are play “DEA” or any sort of drug enforcement. Out of the 8 paragraphs, thats really what you gathered? Your attention to detail is impeccable. No seriously…you’re fucking dense.

  3. (BILLYBOY) They don’t have to say it in the article clown, I know cause I was there, and that’s what it felt like duschbag, so next time you pop your next Percocet or Vicoden think of me jerkoff….

  4. (John) the way your comments sound and how you portray yourself really shows a lack of credibility. If you were there then why do you have to ask what the mission there is? It hasn’t changed since 2001 and how is patrolling in poppy fields making us DEA agents? we don’t go in there mowing down their crop it’s been established that we don’t destroy afghan families main source of income.What unit were you in if you don’t mind me asking?

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