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Buds Over Baghdad: A Soldier’s Story

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On April 27, 2004, High Times received the following e-mail from a man named Michael S. Copeland. The subject read: “Plant in Iraq.”

I have a friend over in Iraq fighting the war. Friends and family keep in touch with him via the guestbook at dankmobb.com. Well, his last post was a cool photo of a plant he found growing in Iraq. You can see Carlos Arellano kneeling next to the plant with his full gear on, including his M-16. The photo is here [attached to the e-mail]. Please let me know if you want to publish it.

The photo in question showed an American soldier in camouflage uniform, with a bandanna on his head and an M-16 dangling from his waist, crouching next to a relatively small marijuana plant. He was not quite smiling, but a glint in his eyes indicated that he was familiar with the plant.

The photo immediately set off shock waves in the office. Here was a soldier who decided to have this photo taken while on patrol in Baghdad. Who was he and what exactly was he trying to say?
I called Michael Copeland, who explained that his friend Carlos Arellano was also a rapper named Singe. “He’s very artistic,” Copeland said. “He has lots of tattoos. At raves, he’d tell a story as he was dancing. He’s very poetic, like Tupac.”

Copeland is married and lives in Illinois, but before he met his wife and settled down, he became friends with Singe. They lived in Antioch, Calif. “It’s something we did all the time,” Copeland said about their pot-smoking. “It’s the California lifestyle. It’s a way of life there, I guess. There’s nothing wrong with it. It shouldn’t be illegal. It’s something we did all the time.”

Last year, Singe released a CD, The Epidemic, on his independent label, StashBox Records. The cover features a bong, some weed, a blunt, several lines of coke, a drink in hand, a pot-leaf hat, and bags marked “Anthrax” and “S.A.R.S.” It’s a dark album that includes such pro-military tracks as “FTT” (“Fuck the Taliban”) and “Jacket Full of Metal.” On “Life,” Singe—whose baritone flow sounds like Ice-T—raps: “Sometimes I want to kill, but instead I just cry / I’m the guy back in school cutting class and getting high.”

Shortly after the album came out, tragedy struck Singe’s family. Last October, his mother’s home in San Bernardino burned down during the forest fires that consumed the mountain region east of Los Angles. In a post on his website dankmobb.com, Singe wrote:

It’s a damn war zone on the real. My mother’s, brother’s and sister’s home burned down to nothing at all. Fires everywhere you look. I can step outside as I’m writing this and see 50-feet flames on the mountains. The skies are filled with black smoke and thousands of people are left with nothing, including my familia.

In December, Singe—who’d enlisted in the US Army Reserve in 1999—was called to full active status by the Army.

Carlos Arellano was born on May 15, 1977, in Fontana, Calif. He’s the oldest sibling in a Hispanic-American family of three boys and five girls. When he’s not in Iraq, Singe lives in South San Francisco, but he calls Concord, Calif., his “true home.”

In an e-mail, Singe told me that his father was a Marine grunt. “Military history is in my blood. My grandfather served in Korea. So military was instilled in me as a youth. I’ve always wanted to join the service.”

Singe was turned down by the Marines due to his many tattoos, but the Army accepted him. (“They offered to remove them—never did, got more!”) “I have to be here,” Singe wrote. “I’m proud to be serving our country.”

He was designated an E-4 specialist, just below the ranks of corporal and sergeant. While training in January, Singe explained on his Web site:

I found out my job. I’m an infantry grenadier, the mean motherfucker with the M-4 and the 203-grenade launcher. I thought I’d be a rifleman, but even better. Good training out here. We’re the door kickers. We’ll be doing a lot of mountain training and MP training for our missions.

In February, he wrote from the National Training Center in California:

It’s been raining like hell out here. We can’t wait to get to Kuwait just for the sunshine. Training’s been good, live fire and all. Seems like I’ve been gone for a long-ass time, but the long time is only ahead of me. I need to be there with our troops, and when I return, believe me, I’ll have a lot to write about.

In March, Singe was shipped over to Kuwait. A month later, on April 13, he wrote about the convoy from Kuwait to Baghdad in his first post from Baghdad:

We made it here without a fight. Only one convoy was fired on. They played “FTT” on the convoy! The convoy was fucking insane!! This place is nuts. Yesterday we got shot at by some Iraqis for the first time, only the second day here. Last night we could hear huge explosions and fires, and the sound of automatic gunfire all night long. One of our bases was overrun the other night by over 1,000 of the enemy, killing seven soldiers and wounding 24! Crazy shit! The war is far from over from this soldier’s perspective.

On April 15, Singe wrote:

This place is sad. Poor little dusty-ass kids begging for food, bullet holes all over the place, fires and explosions. It’s chaos.

On April 23, he reported:

I’m on top of a gunner’s hatch racing through the streets of Baghdad with a loaded 50-caliber machine gun and an M-16 by my side with 13 magazines of loaded rounds, 30 apiece, and ready to attack when attacked. This is a daily routine for me.

April 23 was also the day Singe discovered the pot plant growing next to a gray barrier built to ward off shrapnel from mortar attacks. Two days later, he posted the photo along with this caption:

Here’s another DankMobb classic. Tell me how you diggin’ it. Didn’t think Baghdad got down like that, huh?

The next day, Singe’s friend, Michael Copeland, whose online handle is CootDog, replied:

That plant looks like it’s gonna start flowering in a little bit. Hope it’s a girl. Maybe it’s a hash plant. Did a GI plant it or a local? I guess it doesn’t matter, right? Just as long as everyone smokes it and that ends the fight.

Singe responded the same day:

Yeah, that plant was starting to blossom. I was just looking at it. I didn’t get to do what I do best to it, but you know!

In the same post, he added:

It’s a madhouse out here. I don’t think this place will ever return to a stable condition. I believe I’m here to be a part of it and also to witness these tragic times so I can write and rap about the twisted world around us.

The next day, I received the e-mail from Copeland. I told him that we were interested in using the photo on the cover of the next issue of High Times’ Grow America, but we had to make sure 1) that we had Singe’s approval to do so, and 2) that Singe wouldn’t suffer consequences from appearing on the cover.

On April 28, Singe answered question No.1:

Y’all got a “GREEN LIGHT,” if you know what I mean. I’ll be contacting you soon by phone. I titled it “THE GREEN ZONE.” It’s a military term for where we are, as a matter of fact! So be creative!! Y’all keep blazing for me!

The next day, Singe responded to a list of questions I’d e-mailed to Copeland. In response to question No.  2, he replied:

Am I afraid of appearing on the magazine? Not one single bit. As a matter of fact, it’s been a dream of mine to be on a cover, most especially this magazine cover, ever since I saw Cypress Hill (who I’ve smoked with by the way) on it. I saw it as a goal in life to do as well!

About his encounter with the plant, Singe explained:

This plant here I stumbled upon by accident. I wish to hell we could have “confiscated it.” We were working with the Iraqi police in an undisclosed location. The day was hot as hell. Me and a fellow soldier were eating MRE’s for chow when I saw this beauty waving in the wind from the corner of my eye. I thought I was having a flashback at first. Me being who I am, I had to take a photo to send home to tha crew. The locals love the shit. They hear the word hashish and a smile can be seen from ear to ear! Hookahs are everywhere and in shops everywhere. You gotta love this place at times—High Times, that is!

He also answered another question, “Why is pot so important to you?”

It’s a source all people can relate to and enjoy no matter what. I love the shit personally. It draws people together, and through music you can feel the vibe and interconnection, not like drinking, though I like that as well. Also, with DankMobb, we want the entire world to know what we stand for, and this is it: poetry in the form of  freedom of speech and marijuana, the true blossom from Mother Earth!

Clearly, Singe knew what he was doing. So we proceeded. The next day, another e-mail arrived from Copeland, with an addendum from Singe to the previous day’s e-mail:

Y’all asked for goals in life. Well, here they are: For StashBox Records to become a familiar name in the music biz! I’d like to one day work with Dr. Dre on an album and drop hot music that the world’s been missing. I’d like to have a recording studio in an underground bunker; that way I can smoke and rap as the world burns in flames! Oh yeah, I also want to travel to the moon!

Another of Singe’s friends, Miguel DeSantiago (a.k.a. DaKing), e-mailed Copeland a few more of Singe’s requests:

Singe said he would like some things mentioned if possible:
1. He’s writing an autobiography. He keeps a journal and writes every day.
2. He’s coming out with a new album called Live from Baghdad.
3. We will be publishing his journal and are working on a biographic documentary that will be released on DVD.
4. Can we get extra copies of the magazine for his parents and some friends?

The same day, Singe wrote:

I’m glad I’m here, to be honest. The things I see, the people, the cities, the children and the chaos will be with me forever. Guess I can always share that with people back home and through my music! In the meantime, I’ll keep my brown ass low.

On May 1, via e-mail, Copeland relayed a phone conversation he’d just had with Singe:

He’s really excited and it’s a dream come true for him to be in this magazine. He can’t wait to see what controversy this will cause. I work with an ex-MP, who said that this is an election year and this could be brought up in the elections and go really political and that it could cause an international uproar. I told this to Carlos, and he said that he’s ready to stand up and shout the First Amendment at the Supreme Court.

On May 3, Singe wrote:

It’s hot as hell out here. As I’m writing this they’ve mortared at least five times, some far, others sound close, but we’re just used to it I guess! One was less than a minute ago! Our water has been down for some time so we haven’t showered for a few days. We “STANKMOBB” over here right now!!

Five days earlier, 60 Minutes II showed the first photos of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. After both Copeland and Singe’s mother inquired about this, on May 5, Singe responded:

It’s too bad some of our troops have been treating some of the detainees the way they have. They know better than that, and, even worse, we’re out here trying hard to work and gain trust in the local communities and things like that send it all down the drain! It puts a lot of troops in dangerous situations for just being fucking stupid and inhumane! That’s just a few bad apples. Overall that shit doesn’t take place. We treat them well, feed them and everything. I hope those idiots get in trouble, ’cause when our soldiers get taken hostage, I can guarantee it’s going to be worse to our men and women than what those dumb troops did to the Iraqi detainees! All of this shit will be resolved. I’m glad it’s all out in the open so now it will be fixed!

He added:

Last night I saw an eclipse. It was awesome over the Middle Eastern atmosphere. I was up for a few hours just gathering my thoughts, staring off into space like I used to as a kid. It seems I’ll always do that. I just sit and think, think and think! Just me and my crazy brain!

And on May 7, the day Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld lamely apologized to Congress for the soldiers’ and officers’ disgraceful conduct at the Abu Ghraib prison, Singe wrote the following post for all his concerned family and friends to read:

I recorded two songs today fresh from Iraq. Crazy, huh? Good shit, though. I can’t wait to get home and do my thing. I got so much that I need to do!

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