Kentucky National Guard soldiers work to improve Afghan farming

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Turning swords into plowshares is not what comes to mind when one thinks about the mission of soldiers. But this is exactly what some are doing to bring peace and stability to a troubled region – Afghanistan.

The poor of Afghanistan, which is the majority of the people there, are often recruited by the Taliban and al-Qaida, simply because they have no other means to make money, Col. Aaron T. Barrier said.

Barrier is the commander of Indiana’s Agribusiness Development Team 4 at the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Edinburgh, Ind.

This month, 61 Kentucky National Guard soldiers were learning how to be successful farmers.

All volunteered for the unusual assignment.

"We see this as an opportunity to take some of the talent and some of the experience that we have gained through our agriculture members to go in to these [Afghan] communities and teach new techniques and new ways of farming and developing business to help them be more self-sustaining," Barrier said.

The Agribusiness Development Team, or ADT, mission is an integral part of American counterinsurgency strategy.

Maj. Benjamin Singleton, an engineer for ADT 4, said agriculture is the biggest part of Afghanistan’s economy, but conflicts throughout the last 50 years have destroyed much of the country’s agricultural knowledge.

"We help the locals rebuild their country to help provide stabilization, help get their economy going again, and help people become self-reliant," Singleton said. Adding, "That way people are not as susceptible to planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices) for money or joining terrorist organizations. So really it’s part of the overall fight.

"We’re out helping the country get back on its feet again and by doing that, creating stabilization; helping the country come back together and support their government, ultimately increasing stability worldwide."

For some soldiers, this will be their first ADT mission. For others, such as Sgt. 1st Class Catherine Corson, agricultural specialist for the ADT, this is the second time deploying in support of an agribusiness mission.

"I feel really good about this deployment," Corson said. "I volunteered both times, mostly because I do believe in the mission. We are going to a different area this time, but I think the country needs it."

In the past, Kentucky ADTs have operated out of the area surrounding Kabul.

This time they are going to be operating further south in the country, in an area that is much more kinetic.

"The locals on our first mission took to us very quickly. They protected us. There was a cohesion and a friendship there that says a lot," Corson said.

Adding, "In the area we are going to now, we are not so sure. Going into a very kinetic area, you need to be very alert and so it brings in a different starting point in the relationship-building process, I think."

Corson said she thinks the mobilization training this time around has been geared more toward their specific mission than it has been in the past.

"They have taken a lot of subject matter experts that have personally used the equipment and techniques on deployments of their own and placed them as instructors," Corson said.

"They understand frustrations, they understand questions, and they do everything they can to show us all we need to learn so we can overcome potential problems and find solutions in training that is invaluable," she added.

Soldiers with more traditional skill sets are able to get specific training for their roles in the unit, as well. Spc. Samuel Woodson, an intelligence analyst, said he feels well prepared for the deployment.

"Anytime I felt like I needed anything, all I had to do was ask," Woodson said. "The trainers here have been awesome. If I needed maps, they gave me maps. If I needed familiarization training on the intelligence practices being used in theater right now, I got it."

Security personnel, the agribusiness team, and leadership and support personnel from the commander on down, have indicated that they are ready for this deployment.

Barrier says he looks forward to making a difference, and commented on the increased importance of doing so, as Operation Enduring Freedom comes closer and closer to its conclusion.

"People always say that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. I really think that the last impression, as this conflict starts to wind down, is sometimes what is most important and the one people really remember the most," Barrier said.