By Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 23, 2008 - Missouri National Guard soldiers are overcoming one of the biggest hurdles on Afghanistan's road toward self-sustainment, one of the state's U.S. senators said here yesterday. Sen. Christopher Bond discussed the Missouri Guard's agricultural development teams at a news conference in his office.
The ADTs are made up of Guard members who have a civilian background in farming or agriculture-related businesses who teach sustainable farming practices to Afghan farmers.
"We need the kinetic force to deal with the immediate threats, but we need economic development," Bond said. "We need to empower these people to run their country -- to thrive and make a good life."
Agriculture, the senator noted, is one of Afghanistan's key economic engines. Roughly half of the population makes its living by farming. Bond, who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan, said the Guard ADTs are one step toward Afghan self-sufficiency.
"The Missouri Guard ADT set up a canning plant for canning fruits and vegetables so they don't have to be shipped to Pakistan and then come back at a much higher price," Bond said.
Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard, conceived the ADT program. Vaughn, a Missouri native, reached out to the farming community in the "Show Me" state to ascertain if the program was a viable one.
"About a year and a half ago, I got a phone call from General Vaughn," Charlie Kruse, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, recalled. "He said, 'I want to talk to you about a concept I have in mind of how we can further the cause of farming in Afghanistan by taking farmers who happen to be in the National Guard and deploying them to Afghanistan to work side by side with farmers in Afghanistan.'" The general also wanted to include people with agri-business experience and expertise in other aspects of agriculture, he added.
Representatives from the Missouri Farm Bureau, including Kruse, and Missouri Guard officials worked together to determine what was needed to develop the teams, Vaughn said. They reached out to colleges and universities with agriculture programs for help.
"Because of the Missouri Farm Bureau, we were then able to put together a package to recommend to the National Guard Bureau how we [would organize the teams]," Army Maj. Gen. King E. Sidwell, Missouri's adjutant general, said.
As part of the planning process, officials also met with Afghanistan's agriculture minister to determine the country's needs, Sidwell said.
The first ADT deployed in late 2007 and recently returned home as a second team deployed overseas. While the first team was composed entirely of Army Guard personnel, the second team includes Air National Guard members. The first team focused primarily on large-scale projects such as irrigation issues, and the second team is focusing on other projects such as seed production, Sidwell said.
Providing seeds is one aspect of building a sustainable farming base, Bond noted.
"[The ADT] bought wheat seed for the wheat farmers," he said. "They gave it to the wheat farmers under a contract that said out of the 3,600 metric tons of wheat you grow next year, you have to set aside 600 tons for planting next year. They'll have, under the supervision of the ADT, the wheat to plant next year and get them back into sustainable farming."
The program also assists with traditional military operations, Sidwell said.
"It helps in the military kinetic part," he explained, "because it involves cooperation of the local population, and intelligence resources can be brought to bear. It makes friends when you might not otherwise be able to make friends."
The successes of the Missouri ADTs have resulted in the formation of other teams.
"As we enjoy success, there are other states standing up similar teams to be deployed to other parts of the country," Sidwell said, noting that expansion of the concept was part of the plan.
"When we entered into this project, it was not with the idea that we would go once and that would be it," he said. "This is envisioned to be a long-term commitment."
That commitment and the successes already garnered are a direct result of the Guard, Bond said.
"This is a success that I welcome the opportunity to talk about," the senator said. "It started with the Missouri National Guard and is now involving National Guard units from other states. It shows the flexibility of the Guard, which can do the military missions, the civil missions and, in this case, the agricultural missions."
(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy serves at the National Guard Bureau.)