Friday, March 13, 2009

U.S. Team Helps to Plant Seeds for Afghan Farmers' Success

As the noon sun crept toward the mountains west of Janquadam, children ran from all corners of the village, greeting the group of soldiers from the 28th Forward Agribusiness Development Team.

On this warm, late-February day, the team was on a mission to help a blind farmer develop his fields so he eventually can build a new grape vineyard.

The ADT, a National Guard unit deployed from Nebraska, has come to Afghanistan to assist and educate farmers on better farming techniques, and to introduce them to grasses and alfalfa for better animal health.

No strangers to this village, soldiers of the 28th have visited several times before.

"On a previous mission, we assessed the farmer's fields," Army Sgt. 1st Class Eldon R. Kuntzelman said. "Then we got a letter of agreement from the land owner, and later presented our plan to him."

"Marking and measuring the field was our primary mission," Army 1st Lt. Eric Sattelberg, agricultural team chief, said. "Our goal on every mission is to improve relations with the [local residents]. In the long run, this type of mission will strengthen the bond between Afghanistan and the U.S., because they know that we are here to help grow this nation rather than destroy it."

The 28th has more plans for Janquadam, including installing grain storage bins, planting fruit and nut trees, working with animal health, water management, training and education in tractor maintenance, and setting up greenhouses and underground vegetable storage.

The future of ADT operations is simple -- grow this nation into a thriving country of different fruits and vegetables, Sattelberg said.

"The goal is a continuation of the projects from one ADT rotation to the next," he said. "Several teams are either on the ground or being identified for a potential rotation. We are here doing one field at a time through demonstration farms as well as with other projects."

The demonstration crops offer the farmers an opportunity to learn a variety of methods for growing crops, and then allow the local farmers to try different techniques for growing crops in their own fields.

About half of the unit has been deployed before, and all of the 52-member team volunteered for the deployment. The 28th works in four provinces -- Bamyan, Panjshir, Parwan and Kapisa. Four other ADTs operate across Afghanistan, with more on the way.

The farmers are becoming very familiar with the ADT soldiers and their mission, as the team has conducted numerous missions to the same locations, Sattelberg said. "We are respectful, ... and I think as long as we continue to respect them, they will continue to welcome us in their village."

(Author Army Capt. Michael Greenberger serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)
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