Agribusiness Soldiers Train for Upcoming Mission At Purdue University
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Approximately 30 Indiana National Guard Soldiers with the 1-19th Agribusiness Development Team are getting ready for their upcoming Afghanistan deployment by going back to school.
The Soldiers honed their agribusiness smarts at Purdue University recently. "I'm a Purdue graduate so it's great to be back," said Col. Cindra Chastain, the unit's deputy commander. Chastain is also in charge of the team's agribusiness section and has a degree in animal sciences from the university. "It's great working with all these people that have so much expertise and are willing to share it with us." During the unit's school days the National Guard Soldiers received training in irrigation, crop production, pest management, soils assessment, livestock management, nutrition and other agribusiness techniques.
"The mission focus is to start projects that improve agribusiness in Khowst province in Afghanistan," said Chastain. The knowledge the troops gain here will be applied when they are deployed. "These National Guard Soldiers are better suited for this mission because our Soldiers have civilian jobs and experiences in agriculture," said Chastain. The unit was formed specifically for the deployment and the nearly 60 Citizen-Soldiers were chosen based on their civilian skills. Using those skills is something many of the agribusiness Soldiers are looking forward to as well.
"The opportunity to use our civilian skills for something positive is a rarity in what we do," said Capt. Brian Pyle. "That region of the world as unstable as it is right now, if we can add a little but of a ray of hope to those everyday lives. They'll settle down, they'll move forward, and the whole region will stabilize and bring peace back to here," Pyle said. According to Kevin McNamara, a Purdue agricultural economics professor, the Hoosier Soldiers will have agricultural obstacles, such as soil production and water availability, to overcome when they arrive in Afghanistan. In addition Indiana farms are much larger than Afghanistan farms which are typically one to three acres.
"I think it's of critical importance that we figure out how to help Afghans get out of poverty and improve the livelihood in areas like Khowst province," said McNamara." It's the kind of thing that needs to be addressed if things over there are to change politically," he said. McNamara is also the university's Afghanistan coordinator, and from 1972 to 1974 he served in Afghanistan as a member of the Peace Corps.
Agricultural challenges are just one type the unit will have to overcome. "Every member of my team is a Soldier first and an agriculture expert second," said Col. Brian Copes, the team's commander. According to Copes, who has already been to Afghanistan and surveyed the area, Khowst province is a particularly hostile area now.
"I think it's a brilliant idea," he said of the National Guard's agribusiness development team model. Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas have assembled teams to help Afghanistan, which has an agricultural based economy. The Indiana team is scheduled to report to active-duty in January.
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