Green Beret to Green Thumb in Cannabis
“So you are going to stop being a Green Beret to become a farmer?” asked my friend Jason, a fellow Special Forces operator, with a look of bewilderment on his face. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.
A few years later, I still look back and don’t regret that decision. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands. I like seeing progress. It’s fulfilling to know that something I created can help so many people.
I’ve been growing and extracting hemp since 2018. The path that led me to today was very unconventional to say the least.
Prior to this conversation with Jason, I had just gotten back from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. That deployment was much different than all others in the past. On this last one, I was the Aide-De-Camp (a military officer who serves as an adjutant to a high ranking US General Officer) for a general who was the Commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan. His command was in charge of 14,000 US and NATO special operators. At that level, the focus wasn’t entirely around maneuvering elements. There were a number of extremely competent commanders under the general that took care of that.
Instead the general, myself, and an entourage of personal security from Seal Team 6 or Special Force’s Commander’s In-extremis Force boarded a Blackhawk helicopter or small fixed winged aircraft every morning. We visited the heroic men and women that had to do the heavy lifting every day and night. That is, they would execute raids on targets with high value individuals (HVIs), provide mentorship to foreign counterparts, and provide humanitarian assistance. These men and women were there to ensure that the people back home could feel safe every night when they went to bed. Every American owes them gratitude and respect for the efforts and sacrifices that they have made.
We also visited every power broker and leader in Afghanistan. Doing so was a constant juggling act in trying not to mention some wrong thing that was said in a past meeting with someone else. Power brokers in Afghanistan were predominately high ranking officials in the military or government. Some were religious leaders. Some of these men fought against the Soviets in the ‘70s. Some were trained by the CIA.
One day trip yielded a random personal tour of the Ismail Khan Jihad Museum in Herat. Some of these regional leaders were ruthless warlords prior to US occupation. Most were involved in high levels of corruption, whether it be from taxing everything that flowed through their territory or skimming the paychecks from every one of their soldiers and police that the US government financed. One billionaire once told me how he started off smuggling cigarettes when he was young and poor. He then smuggled fuel, and eventually heroin. The war brought USG contracts and that soon became his latest interest. The common theme that most of these visits displayed was that these men desired one thing: power.
The complexity of the entire situation in Afghanistan was mind bending. For a while, I found it very interesting and exciting to sit down every evening with a different influential member from the Afghan government. We would eat five-course meals in marble lined palaces while being served by multiple servants the entire time. The general would do most of the talking. He was always the guest of honor and would be given the “seat of power,” at every meal. This was the seat on the end of the table that faced the entrance. Most of our hosts treated me very well too. Some I’m still in contact with today.
However, the overt corruption and lack of progress slowly ate away at me. On most occasions, I sat at the table with men worth over 100s of millions of USD. Some were billionaires. Most of them had four or five wives.
There were two men that I couldn’t tolerate the most. One was a brutal human being. During most of any meal, he just picked his nose. The other was a spy on the payroll for a foreign adversary. The spy isn’t really worth saying much about, for he wasn’t very good at keeping secrets. The nose picker on the other hand will be in the history books forever. He amazed me because he couldn’t read or write but somehow amassed a net worth of over $300 million USD. He built an empire even though he was illiterate, because he had a high IQ and he coupled it with pure brutality. Extortion, murder, torture, and car bombs were all on his resume. He was a bad guy, but at that time, he was our bad guy. Eventually the violence that he surrounded himself with caught up with him. Pro-Tip: Keep this in mind if you ever decide to become a warlord.
Seeing all of this from a bird’s eye view started to make me wonder what I wanted to get out of this life. At the time, I had a wife, a 2 year old, and a newborn back home in NC. I wondered a few questions. Was my life worth risking for one of these guys? If we stopped giving them money and power, how would that affect national security back home? The entirety of my adult life up to that point revolved around war. Where else could I fit into this world?
On a lighter note, one memorable dinner was with President Hamid Karzai’s older brother, Qayyum. Qayyum was well educated, spending much time in the United States to include graduate school. He speaks fluent English and owns multiple businesses in Maryland. We started a small sidebar conversation when he asked where my accent was from. When I told him I was originally from western PA he said, “No way, I have a farm in Bedford!” Bedford is about a 50 minute drive from where I grew up.
Shortly after that deployment, I decided to depart the Special Forces and moved back home to take over the family farm. I won’t give Qayyum credit for my decision to pursue agriculture. However, there’s a reason why George Bush and Bill Gates each own thousands of acres. A different type of satisfaction comes from being self-reliant while producing products that help others.
After starting a few small businesses on the farm and learning important lessons along the way (usually the hard way), we decided that hemp production on our farm would become the next chapter in our life. Innovative Extracts was formed shortly after.
This story doesn’t really have anything to do with CBD. Why do I share it then? I share it because it’s part of the path that got me to where I am today. All of these past events are etched into the principles and values of myself and Innovative Extracts.
Sometimes my past feels like a chaotic dream. The happiness, excitement, pain, and misery all seem to blur together. Nothing seems black and white anymore. A lot of times in today’s world, perception is more important than truth, and that can divide us even further. Trying to help provide a solution to this divide, I wake up every morning with four goals in mind. I want to be a good husband, father, person, and American.
I think I finally found my place in this world and so far, I’m doing an alright job.
Check back for more stories on the journey that made IE what it is today.