Press Conference
As Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, left, looks on, Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard, addresses members of the media during a press conference on the mission of the Guard's Agricultural Development Teams at the Pentagon, Jan. 22.

ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Jan. 23, 2009) - Troops on the ground in Afghanistan are reaching back 372 years to the roots of the National Guard to help the Afghan people to improve agriculture.

Agricultural Development Teams use equal parts of the term often used to describe members of the Army National Guard: Citizen-Soldier.

"The symbol of the National Guard tells the story," Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said during a Pentagon briefing on Thursday. "The National Guard Minuteman has a musket in one hand, and his left hand is on a plough. This is the history of the Citizen-Soldier, and the history of our nation. And we're taking that same combination of skills and applying it to needs in Afghanistan."

Col. Stan Poe is commander of the Texas ADT currently at work in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan.

The Soldiers who Poe leads were selected based on their citizen agrarian skills, education and experiences, the commander said via satellite from Afghanistan.

Out of uniform, they are farmers, agricultural extension agents, academics and engineers.

In uniform, they are helping the Afghan people improve the water and power supplies needed for farming; they are developing high school-level agricultural education programs; and they created an experimental farm at their forward operating base.

"The magic of this approach is the civilian skills that you're able to bring to bear on the economic development in Afghanistan," Geren said. "There are really few other resources that we can offer as a nation that offer as much practical benefit as what the Citizen-Soldier offers."

About 60 National Guard members from the Texas team have helped the residents of Ghazni province build a slaughter facility and a place to tan hides, which creates jobs in Afghanistan rather than having them exported. They also have helped establish an agricultural infrastructure that includes feed mills and sale barns.

"These projects will help the whole people of Afghanistan, especially the people in Ghazni province," Sultan Hussein Abasyar, Ghazni's director of agriculture, irrigation and livestock, said through an interpreter via satellite from Afghanistan. "We have benefited a lot ... we are very thankful for what they are doing, and we would appreciate it a lot."

Speaking from a country where more than 80 percent of the population is directly or indirectly involved in agriculture, Abasyar said even more assistance would be welcome. "The country needs help from the international community," he said.

The first ADT came from Missouri, the home state of Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, the director of the Army National Guard. "[He] is a person I really give credit for coming up with this concept," Geren said.

"We wanted to build some relationship between a state and either a tribe or province," Vaughn said. "This is something that you don't go in one time, come back out, and you never see the same people or the same team again."

In the case of the Texas team, the relationship goes beyond the troops and reaches back to the United States, to students and faculty at Texas A&M, who Poe said have tested soil samples and offered advice on crops and techniques.

Even the landscape of the contributing National Guard state can help Soldiers arrive in Afghanistan prepared to offer agricultural help.

"It reminds us a lot of West Texas," Poe said of Ghazni province.

In addition to creating a long-term relationship between states and provinces, the program also seeks to create sustainable projects that will be in place for years after the last Citizen-Soldier has returned home.

"Every project, every pursuit must be sustainable," Poe said, meaning that the Afghan people must be able to maintain it.

National Guard members from Nebraska, Indiana, Tennessee, Kansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma are scheduled to expand the program, Geren said.

"This is a pilot," he said. "This is particularly innovative because of not only what they're doing on the ground but the reach-back to draw on the academic and research capabilities here in the United States. ... It's been successful; it's been well-received in Afghanistan, and I think it holds great promise."

(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves with the National Guard Bureau.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16