5-19th Agribusiness Development Team Returns From Afghanistan

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By Brandon Knapp, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs

After a year in Afghanistan, the 5-19th ADT is home

EDINBURGH, Ind. – It has been a long year of waiting, but the wait is finally over. The last nine soldiers of the 5-19th Agri-business Development Team returned home to Indiana after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, where they aided the farmers of Afghanistan by sharing new farming techniques and teaching them to better utilize resources. The 5-19th ADT deployed in May 2012 to Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, Afghanistan. Their mission was to bridge the gap between the government of Afghanistan and the farmers by working directly with the local government, specifically the Director of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, his agents, and district governors. This allowed the local leaders to take the lead in improving agribusiness in the area, according to Capt. Robert Skomp, Pittsborough, Ind., hydrologist with the 5-19th ADT.

Soldiers of the 5 19th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana Army National Guard, take a hearing test as part of in processing after returning from their deployment to Afghanistan.
Soldiers of the 519th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana Army National Guard, take a hearing test as part of in processing after returning from their deployment to Afghanistan. (Photo by Brandon Knapp, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public affairs

“The deployment went very well. There was some question about water and soil, but once we got on ground we were able to make those assessments pretty quickly. We were able to talk with local farmers and get a feel for how they were doing their agricultural practices, how they were watering their soils and see what knowledge they did have,” said Skomp. We wanted to bring their training up from where it was so that they could get out to their provinces and teach their farmers the correct methods of more modern planting,” he said.

According to Skomp, by observing local agricultural practices, Soldiers of the 5-19th ADT were able to make recommendations to improve the crop production as well as improve planting methods. The Afghan farmers were using a method of planting called seed broadcasting, where seed and fertilizer were thrown on top of the soil by hand. The 5-19th ADT introduced the practice of drill planting, where seeds are distributed evenly and are placed directly into the soil. This made a significant reduction in the amount of seed and fertilizer needed and increased the crop yield.

Sgt Jerrod Rybolt, 5 19th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana Army National Guard, has his vision checked as part of returning from deployment in Afghanistan.
Sgt Jerrod Rybolt, 519th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana Army National Guard, has his vision checked as part of returning from deployment in Afghanistan. Photo by Brandon Knapp, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs

“The local farmers were using 50 kilograms of seed by hand broadcasting and we were able to reduce that to less than 20 kilograms. This saved them a lot of money on seed and fertilizer they did not need,” said Skomp. Doing this was not an easy task. Soldiers of the 5-19th ADT faced several challenges in teaching the Afghan farmers these new methods of planting. One challenge was getting the Afghan farmers to try new farming techniques.

According to Sgt. Jerrod Rybolt, agricultural specialist, making changes is not something that comes easily to the people of Afghanistan. Seeing is believing for them; so the Soldiers of the 5-19th rolled up their sleeves with the local farmers and showed them these new techniques to give them a better understanding that could not be achieved through words alone. The farmers were more adoptive of these methods when they could see results themselves, he said.

1st Class Spurgin, 5 19th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana Army National Guard, reads an eye chart as part of his post deployment medical screening, after returning from Afghanistan.
1st Class Spurgin, 519th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana Army National Guard, reads an eye chart as part of his post deployment medical screening, after returning from Afghanistan. Photo by Brandon Knapp, Atterbury- Muscatatuck Public affairs

Another reason that change is difficult for the Afghan people is their lack of available resources. “Right now they are at a subsistence level where they can barely feed themselves and their animals. They cannot afford for their crops to fail at all, otherwise they will starve, so it is hard to get them to change their practices and try something new,” said Skomp.

Capt. Robert Skomp, 5 19th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana Army National Guard, receives a post deployment Tuberculosis test as part of his medical screening after returning from Afghanistan.
Capt. Robert Skomp, 519th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana Army National Guard, receives a post deployment Tuberculosis test as part of his medical screening after returning from Afghanistan. Photo by Brandon Knapp, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public affairs

“The biggest challenge was the language barrier, not being able to fully explain and understand what the interpreter is saying to the people,” said Rybolt. Translation difficulties sometimes made it hard for Soldiers of the 5-19th to communicate with the local farmers, but this did not stop them from accomplishing their mission.

While it was a tough year for the Soldiers of the 5-19th ADT and their families, it was not without reward. The Soldiers of the 5-19th ADT worked hard and improved the lives of many. Their efforts will make a profound and long lasting impact, and for this they can be proud.

By Brandon Knapp, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs