65 men and women from the Missouri National Guard are on their way to Afghanistan to teach farmers and officials there modern agriculture practices.
“I’m reminded of an old saying, that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” Commander of the Missouri National Guard Steve Danner tells the hundreds of people the deployment ceremony in Jefferson City.
“We bring our citizens skills to the fight to see that we can make the Afghan’s life better. With that, then they have less incentive to join the Taliban and anti-government forces,” Danner said.
This will be the fourth “Agribusiness Development Team” sent to the Nangarhar Province, and the fifth is already being assembled for next year. Danner says this is an important mission for the overall effort in Afghanistan, as agriculture makes up 85% of the economy there.
“That’s not how we win these wars these days. We’re not going to win it with body bags and kicking down doors, etc. I think as General Petraeus rightly said, every time we do that and we kill one enemy we make ten more,” Danner said.
Senior Master Sergeant Jerry Blankenship says they’ll teach Afghani regional extension agents, who can then help small farmers with problems that aren’t exactly ‘modern.’
“Let’s go back to 1920 Missouri farms, so it’s really behind the times. But then again, we’re staying in that era because when we leave we want them to be sustained on their own. We’re not going to give them big expensive equipment because they can’t maintain it. We’re going to work with the hands, everything doing manual labor. Keep it that way and they can build it on their own,” Blankenship said. He went to Afghanistan to see the third version of the team in action, to prepare for this deployment.
“The people over there love us. We haven’t had any problems in the Nangarhar Province, where we’re going. They know we’re there providing assistance for them, we’re building them up and they don’t want to shoot us, we don’t want to shoot them. As long as they can have farms that are producing crops they can sell in the markets, there’s no reason for them to pick up a weapon,” Blankenship said.
Meantime, Danner says he hopes the shake-up in American leadership in Afghanistan doesn’t affect this mission.
“I think General Petraeus has a stellar reputation as being able to get things done. I do think that, well, I’ll just say I hope he’ll take a look at our agriculture development team, and some of the ideas that we’ve been talking about in the National Guard. That our agriculture development teams need to be beefed up and enhanced so we can really take and change the perspective from the war fighter to the peace keeper,” Danner said.
The team heads to training at Camp Atterbury Indiana before leaving for Afghanistan later this year, to take over the work of the “ATV III.” There are nine other states sending similar teams from their National Guards.