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Ky. Guard to assume Afghanistan agriculture mission

Members of the Missouri Army National Guard’s Agri-Business Development Team visit with a local farmer in eastern Afghanistan to discuss how they can assist farmers in the region. Kentucky Guardsmen will be assuming the mission this summer with the first of two 10-month rotations. (Photo by Colonel Martin Leppert, Army National Guard)

Members of the Missouri Army National Guard’s Agri-Business Development Team visit with a local farmer in eastern Afghanistan to discuss how they can assist farmers in the region. Kentucky Guardsmen will be assuming the mission this summer with the first of two 10-month rotations. (Photo by Colonel Martin Leppert, Army National Guard)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky National Guard troops will soon be taking the skills they learned at home or on their family farms and putting them to work helping the people of Afghanistan rebuild a sustainable future.

Guard officials are seeking about 66 volunteers from either the Kentucky Army or Air National Guard to deploy to the combat zone in July, where they will comprise an Agri-Business Development Team.

"This is an opportunity for us to take the unique military and civilian skills we have as Guard members and make an incredible difference through a unique mission," said Col. Bill Ketterer, vice commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing.

According to Army Maj. John Holmes, who will serve as executive officer for the team, Bluegrass Guardsmen will continue a five-year push by the Army National Guard to make it possible for Afghan farmers to feed themselves and their nation.

Decades of war and oppressive rule have eroded the agricultural knowledge base in the country, he said. Basic management practices that are considered commonplace on family farms in the U.S. elude the nation's citizens, 70 percent of whom work to provide basic sustenance for the country.

"Most of the agriculture experience over there has pretty much been wiped out," Colonel Ketterer said. "If you can imagine losing Guardyour father and grandfather to the Taliban or some other regime, and then being asked to change the oil in your vehicle, grow and harvest crops, sell your products, grow and process your animals and take them to market, you start to imagine the void that exists in Afghanistan. We're not going to feed them. The Kentucky National Guard is going there to teach them to fish."

In country, Major Holmes said the teams would maintain a high operational tempo in three provinces to help local producers. He said some of the basic skills that Airmen or Soldiers developed in their civilian and military careers will be tremendously useful.

To make the point, he talked about the experience of Nebraska National Guard members who are currently carrying out the mission. During the conduct of routine rounds, the Guardsmen met an implement dealer who asked for help repairing a tractor.

With a basic mechanic's toolbox and no spare parts, the team was able to quickly start the tractor.

"Then he showed them nine more tractors that weren't running," Major Holmes said. "They went to work and were able to fix six or seven of the tractors with no repair parts. And the guy was pretty happy."

Agriculture techniques in the country are basic, with implements and plows often being pulled by cows. The major said the sorry state of most livestock in the area would be unrecognizable to American farmers.

Airmen and Soldiers participating in the mission will have a full array of stateside and federal government resources. They will work hands-on in a variety of capacities to help the region's farmers improve their yields, feed their families and meet the nation's demands for food.

The Kentucky National Guard's support of the program will continue for two 10-month tours.

Airmen and Soldiers with a variety of skills are needed. Civil engineers, hydrologists, irrigation specialists and others who feel their civilian or military experiences can contribute to the team are asked to voice their interests through their chains of command.

Selected candidates will undergo mobilization or advanced combat skills training for their respective services. The team will then gather together for "purple" team-building and additional training before deployment.

"I want people who want to do this mission," Major Holmes said. "I want people who are willing to go over there and work and make a difference and know they can contribute.

"This can be the most rewarding thing you ever do in the military."