By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 21, 2008 - The National Guard is taking a biblical verse to heart: "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." Commanders in Afghanistan are looking forward to the deployment of two agri-business development teams next year. The teams – one from Indiana and one from Tennessee – are made up of National Guardsmen with farming backgrounds. They will serve a year in Afghanistan advising local governments and people on agricultural practices.
An agri-business development team from Texas already is working in Afghanistan's Ghazni province.
"The focus of all we do is the Afghan people, and our intent in everything we do is to separate the people physically and psychologically from the enemy," said Army Col. John P. Johnson, commander of Combined Task Force Currahee. The unit is built around the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.
The task force has responsibility for 2.3 million people in Wardak, Logar, Paktia, Khowst and Paktika provinces in Regional Command East. The vast majority of the people in the region are farmers or herders, and agricultural expertise will help them improve their quality of life.
"We try to connect with the legitimate government and the Afghan security forces with the people," Johnson said.
About 80 Guard members make up each team. The military has no occupational specialty for farmers, so the members can be any specialty or branch. They are included in the unit solely for their civilian expertise, National Guard Bureau officials said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some specialists in provincial reconstruction teams, but not many at other levels of command. The "soft power" these teams represent can help Afghanistan for the long run, Johnson said.
"We cannot succeed here with military power alone," he said.
It is critical to follow military power with rebuilding and construction funds, Johnson said. "We're really excited about getting these two agri-business development teams in our area of operations," he said.
The teams bring expertise in hydrology, dairy farming, chicken farming, soil conservation, pest management and agricultural business practices. The people in the provinces are subsistence farmers, but there is potential to build the agricultural capacity, Johnson said.
The teams will have support from agricultural universities in the United States. The Indiana team is undergoing refresher training at Purdue University.
"They will have an entire system that allows them to increase production and take advantage of all the potential that is here," the colonel said.
For example, wheat that farmers grow in Khowst is delivered to Pakistan for milling. The Pakistanis ship it back to Afghanistan for sale. With help from the teams, Afghans may be able to start their own milling plants.
"Teams will assist the farmers to build entire agricultural systems and allow them to take full advantage of all the agricultural potential resident here," Johnson said.