Damn Good Biking

Damn Good Biking
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Friday, January 9, 2009

Harvesting Ties With Afganistan

Hello all, been out of the picture for a while. Thought I would observe the world for a while instead of write about it. Here is a fantastic article, enjoy. Today my task is to communicate with these people mentioned and see what our organization can do to potentially start sending our farmer veterans to Iraq and Afghanistan in the next coming years.

A good place to begin reconciliation would be the dinner table, wouldn't you agree?

Without further adieu.....

Harvesting ties with Afghanistan

By Tom Vanden Brook - USA TODAY
Posted : Wednesday Dec 31, 2008 8:10:28 EST

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Growing up on a farm with no electricity or indoor plumbing in the rolling, wooded hills of southwestern Wisconsin may be the best training Col. Martin Leppert could have had for what he’s facing here.

Leppert leads the new National Guard program, spearheaded by farmer-soldiers from middle America, to teach Afghans how to bolster their yields from crops and livestock.

“I can appreciate what they’re going through,” he says. “I had a little Afghan experience in my own upbringing. It’s hard living.”

In Afghanistan, eight of 10 workers scratch a living from the bleak landscape. Just 12 percent of the land in a country about the size of Texas can support crops. Devastating droughts are common here; overgrazing has depleted pastures. Small improvements can help make farming more viable, Leppert says. They also can help wean some farmers off opium poppies, which feed the heroin trade and in turn nourish militants such as the Taliban.

The war in Afghanistan, says Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will be won in rural areas with programs like the Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team effort. Such aid will be as important as bullets, he says. Afghans won’t reject the fundamentalist Muslim Taliban and the narcotics trade until they feel more secure and see government efforts to improve their lives.

“These are the tactics that have been responsible for virtually every modern success in irregular warfare, and the Guard’s efforts are an example of the only path to success,” he says.

The National Guard’s teams began deploying here this year. The program is based on efforts over the past 20 years by the Guardsmen to improve farming in Central and South America.

Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, calls the program “tremendous” and salutes the Guardsmen.

“They bring with them sometimes experience and skill sets that are absolutely needed in this country,” he says.

The focus is in eastern and central Afghanistan. Guardsmen from eight states — Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas — have been involved or are sending soldiers. One month of training is followed by 11 months in the field.

The teams assess farmers’ needs and often ask for a small plot of land to show them how new practices can increase their harvests.

Near Bagram, farmers have been growing grapes on mounds of earth for generations. The grapes lay on the soil, limiting yields, exposing them to contamination from fertilizer and slurping up water that has been sluiced to them in trenches.

The teams taught them to build trellises and train the vines to climb off the ground and irrigation techniques to reduce the amount of water needed.

“We’re here to provide Afghan solutions to Afghan problems,” Leppert says.

It helps, says Col. Rondal Turner, chief of staff of the Kentucky National Guard, that many Guardsmen are a little older, a little more mature than most soldiers. He finds that language and cultural barriers erode quickly.

“This fits so well with our people, our soldiers,” Turner says. “A lot of our folks are part-time farmers. We have orchards and vineyards, tobacco, corn and wheat back home just like this.”

He met recently with village elders to discuss how the Kentucky Guardsmen could help.

“I had a flashback to when I was a kid when all the old farmers talked about what worked and what didn’t at the country store,” he says. “You have that common bond with them. They’re decent farmers. They want to increase their yields.”

Lt. Col. Howard Schauer of the Nebraska National Guard has worked as a farmhand and a state meat inspector. One of the biggest challenges for Afghan farmers, he says, is that decades of conflict have destroyed farming traditions. Prior to Soviet occupation in 1979 and the civil war that followed, Afghanistan could feed itself and export crops. Today, the country must import wheat and many citizens rely on international aid programs for food, according to the State Department.

“They lost a whole generation of farmers with 30 years of war,” Schauer says. “A lot of them knew how to farm by watching their fathers and grandfathers. That disappeared. Our challenge is to show them benefits. They’re hard workers, very hard workers and they’re not dumb by any stretch of the imagination.”

They need help, he says, planting the right grasses for livestock to graze on. “Right now, you’ve got a weed that barely a goat would eat,” he says.

Afghanistan remains an exquisitely dangerous place for Afghans and the Guardsmen working with them. Leppert says security forces make up more than half of each team of about 50 soldiers. But working in the field and sharing risk is critical.

“I never look at Afghans as the enemy,” Leppert says. “‘Prove me wrong’ ” is my motto. You’re not going to trust me unless I’m out there with you, if I don’t sit down and have chai with you, just be a human being with these people. We’re diplomats of the United States.”

Still, he says, his soldiers wouldn’t hesitate to use their weapons.

“We’re like the Peace Corps with an attitude,” he says.


Cat said...

amazing article. i feel a discussion about you wanting to move to afghanistan coming on ... :) as long as we can get health insurance and are someplace where kids can flourish, i'll seriously consider it. i'm very proud of the work you do, the connections to folks you make, and promoting and making the version of the world you'd like to see happen - happen. barka da kokari nazifi!

wayfaringpeacefully said...

and barka da hankuri for putting up with my wandering ways so gloriously. you are truly an inspiration in my life as well.

Love you.

p.s. Is this modern dating now? Via blogosphere?