The National Guard's Warrior Farmers In Afghanistan

It’s easy — and wrong — to see Afghanistan’s natural condition as perpetual war. And it’s just as easy, and just as wrong, to think Americans have no common bond with the Afghan people. The National Guard may have found it and is working very hard to literally grow that bond in Afghanistan remote rural farming regions.

One of Gen. David Petraeus’s basic tenets of counterinsurgency warfare is to gain the cooperation of the local populace without asking them to give up their heritage and culture to become like us. In Afghanistan, only 12 per cent of the land is arable, but a large segment of the Afghan population is devoted to agriculture and — more importantly — they hold dear the agricultural past of their families.

Like the citizen soldiers who served before them, today’s National Guard soldier is mature, married, and in many cases has a job associated with the agri-business sector of our economy. It is both that maturity and that critical experience selected soldiers have in agri-business that is helping the Army in its current efforts to stabilize the rural country side in Afghanistan.

On a visit to Afghanistan in Febuary 2007, the Director of the Army National Guard Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn recognized that the traditional role of the farmer in Afghanistan as the “life blood of the country” was no different than here in the United States. Following Petraeus’ basic counterinsurgency doctrine, Vaughn set in motion an initiative to connect the local Afghan farmers with American Army National Guard Soldiers with a farming background to teach and mentor them to a better way of life.

As the mission in Afghanistan becomes more complex and planners struggle to overcome Taliban influence in Afghanistan’s remote, rural areas, it has become clear to many senior leaders that new approaches such as the ADT initiative are needed to achieve mission success.

Each Agribusiness Development Team (ADT) is comprised of Army and Air National Guard soldiers and airmen with backgrounds and expertise in various sectors of agri-business. These teams of approximately 58 troops are deployed forward into Afghanistan to provide training and advice to Afghan universities, provincial ministry of Agriculture employees, and most importantly, to the local farmers out in the field. The ADTs are establishing long-term relationships among themselves, the Agriculture Universities here in the states, and over in Afghanistan that over time will build trust and strong lasing bonds.

As I’ve seen first-hand, thirty years of war have decimated much of Afghanistan’s agri-business infrastructure, and much of the former knowledge is all but lost due to the ravages of the long conflict. According to Vaughn, “The ADT Teams foster the critical personal ties and relationships of our Farmers with those of the Afghan Farmer. This kinship allows the ADT to leverage the assets and expertise of land-grant universities and cooperative extension services within their home states and focus that expertise to directly benefit their Afghan brother farmers.

The cultural connection between farmers is wonderful to observe. I’ve seen it myself in a little incident that has to do with pomegranate tree saplings.

Before I went to Afghanistan, I didn’t know that the farmers there valued their agricultural history as much as their national identities. Though that may be a slight exaggeration, it is only slight.

Before the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, pomegranate trees were in abundance. And the pomegranate was a valued export crop. In their decade-long devastation of Afghanistan, the Soviets practically denuded the nation of pomegranates and much of the country other fruit bearing orchards. In addition, the Soviets destroyed much of the centuries-old irrigation infrastructure this arid country depends on to produce the crops required to feed its people.

And then came the U.S. National Guard. When the ADT teams discovered the pomegranate’s history, it wasn’t long before about 10,000 pomegranate saplings were being given to the Afghan farmers, who treated them as if they were made of gold. It will be a long time before all those saplings bear fruit, and longer still before pomegranate groves become common again in Afghanistan. But the connection with our ADTs and the replanting of the pomegranate will not be forgotten for as long as these farmers — and their children and grandchildren — tell the tale.

Although still in its infancy, the ADT initiative is beginning to reshape and rebuild that lost infrastructure. As experienced soldiers know, “Nothing in Afghanistan is easy,” and this mission will certainly take both time and patients from the Afghan farmers and the soldiers who mentor them to achieve ultimate success.

The three ADTs currently operational have been decisively engaged with the local farmers in the development and construction of Agri-Business related infrastructure and irrigation related improvements projects. Both the Missouri and Texas teams who have been on the ground the longest have worked with their Afghan counterparts to build local slaughter facilities, auction barns, demonstrations farms and veterinary clinics.

The teams have begun partnership between their supporting land grant universities and the local Afghan Agriculture universities in their provinces. According to Vaughn, ‘We have to bring the full weight and expertise of the great American agricultural system to bear to assist the Afghan farmer and facilitate stability in the rural areas” The course the collective effort of the ADTs and the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture are starting to make a difference.

These projects will continue to have a direct and positive impact on the farmer in the rural areas. Moreover, these types of interventions directly facilitate long term peace and stability. As the average farmer’s lot in life improves, he is able to sustain his family and provide a better life and education for his children. The ADTs are also very involved in working with various Afghan agriculture universities to assist in mentoring faculty staff and students in contemporary agricultural curriculum and technology.

The revitalization of the agricultural business sector in Afghanistan requires a complex and integrated set of solutions. ADTs ensure that improvements are sustainable with local assets and within the context of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) abilities. Commanders in the field are realizing the ADT concept provides a very skilled and high impact asset that can be specifically targeted to have a very positive impact to any given village, region or tribe and thus bolster support for the legitimate government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The ADT provides the Combined Joint Task Force commander with immediate agricultural expertise to critical areas and its presence on the ground facilitates daily community engagement.

The ADT member is truly the classic Citizen Soldier at his and her finest: all volunteers, willing to set their lives aside at a moment’s notice to help their fellow man. It’s a noble mission carried out by Americas National Guard heroes.