Planting The Seeds Of Stability

January 25, 2009

When a National Guard unit deploys to a war torn country, they take with them, not only the skill set they were trained on in the military, but the often varied experiences and expertise from their civilian job as well. Some may be businessmen, students, doctors or nurses, lawyers or even farmers. The things that these Soldiers can bring to the table during a deployment, are often as varied as the personality of each Soldier. Members of agricultural development teams currently deployed to Afghanistan, are shining examples of what the National Guard stands for. Their emblem alone signifies this: A minuteman holding a musket in one hand and the other hand resting on a plow. At a recent media roundtable event, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Army National Guard Chief,Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, spoke about the capabilities that these Soldiers bring to the development of the countries that they are deployed in. Joining them for the event via video teleconference was Army Col. Stan Poe, who is currently in Afghanistan leading a team from Texas National Guard, and Sultan Huessen Abasyar, who is the director of Ghanizi provinces agriculture, irrigation and livestock office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team members conduct bulk density soil samples in Marawara District, Afghanistan. Photo By: U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle

U.S. Department of Agriculture and Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team members conduct bulk density soil samples in Marawara District, Afghanistan. Photo By: U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle

According to data that the men provided, about 85 percent of the population in Afghanistan is involved in agriculture. The deployed teams are working on what the country needs to better support their citizens who are engaged in agriculture, as a means of support.

“For the US Army to consider having teams like the agribusiness development teams … concerned only with agriculture and advancement of improving agriculture in Afghanistan - is in my opinion one of the best ways to not only help the people of Afghanistan improve their economy and living standards, but to help Afghanistan prosper as a nation for future generations,” Sultan Abasyar said through an interpreter.1

The team from Texas, is composed of 58 members. 10 of those members are experts in various farm related disciplines. Their job is to assist the Afghan farmers with various tasks. Those tasks might involve things such as seeds, fertilizers, irrigation projects, electricity and social analysis. The remaining members of the team are National Guard Infantrymen. However, every single member of the team has a farming background. While their main job is be a security force for the team, each of them are knowledgeable in farming and how to get crops into the ground and then harvest them. As is evidenced by the rebuilding projects in Iraq, our Troops aren’t in the country, just to fight, but also to help the country move past the war, rebuild their country and stabilize the country and it’s economy. Each National Guard Soldier in the team is able to bring with them, the expertise of their civilian jobs.

Each of the teams have ties with universities and organizations in the United States, in order to help them best serve the Afghan population that they are working with. For example, the Texas team is in constant contact with subject matter experts at Texas A & M University. The staff at Texas A & M is able to assist the teams with soil analysis and provide suggestions for what crops might do well in that particular soil and climate.

“Water is the limiting factor in Ghazni,” Vaughn said. ” A lack of water is not the problem in Afghanistan,” he continued. “The management of the water is the problem.”2

The teams have worked on several projects with the Afghan farmers. They have assisted by putting in dams on mountain streams. This helps to lengthen the growing season by a month. Other projects include water management techniques, to help prevent floods and control erosion of the soil, micro-generators for the farms and installing windmills and solar powered collectors, to enable the farmers to have the electricity they need to operate their farms more efficiently.

Another project the team is exploring is creating jobs in the region by helping to create industries that will utilize raw materials that come from the farming industry. Members are working with local government officials on putting in a feedlot for cattle. More things than meat can be taken from the cattle industry. Because of this fact, the teams are working to construct a building to house a place for butchers to slaughter the animals that come from the feedlot. They are also working on a tanning facility, that can tan the hides of the animals and make leather. They are also looking at creating cold storage facilities and possibly a wool washing factory. Each new facility that is opened, strengthens the farming industry as well as create jobs for the people of the region. With jobs available, it’s hoped that the citizens will be less likely to align themselves with the Taliban. This in turn makes their communities a much safer place for them to live and raise their families in.

They new projects are many and very exciting to the citizens of the region. These projects will make Afghanistan a much safer, more productive and a more stable place for it’s citizens. Due to the stability the country has experienced over many many years, the country basically lost an entire generation of farmers. Recognizing this, the teams are working with officials from Afghanistan, as well as officials from Texas A & M, to create schools to train teachers and provide materials, that can be used to educate current and future generations of farmers in Afghanistan.

By using the expertise of Soldiers such as the team from Texas and another from Missouri, the Army is tapping into a very important resource. By using Soldiers from the states where agriculture is one of the primary industries, the Army is able to provide a very valuable and much needed service to the people of Afghanistan.

“This is what we need for long-term solutions in Afghanistan,” Vaughn said. “This is a poor country and if we can improve the way they farm, we are making a huge contribution to stability in the nation.”3

This is a wonderful service that our Troops are providing to the citizens of Afghanistan. I think it’s great that the Army is tapping into the expertise of their National Guard Soldiers and putting that expertise to work in a way that will not only strengthen the economy and stability of Afghanistan, but forge a strong bond with the people, by helping to improve their living conditions and creating jobs.

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