Agrarian Warriors: The Quiet Success of National Guard Agribusiness Development Teams in Afghanistan
Leppert, Martin A., Army
I have looked across the epic desolation of the Afghan landscape many times, pondering the country's future and how the collective power of the United States and its allies can be brought to bear to bring this ancient land back from the abyss of feudalism and chaos. Recent global conflicts continue to spark changes in military doctrine and training methodologies. Forward-thinking in their approach, these new concepts are deeply rooted in lessons learned from periods of conflict and reconstruction throughout history. %hus a look back at our proud military heritage reaps valuable .knowledge applicable today in the fight for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
In 2002, I took part in a joint combined military exercise conducted on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Despite cold, gray days and lightly falling snow, I could not help but I notice the striking similarities between the Japanese rural landscape and the southern Wisconsin farm region where I grew up. Familiar Midwestem-style farms with ceramic silos, barns and dairy cows all reminded me of the toils iof my American youth.
Noting the commonalities, I asked a Japanese officer if he knew of Hokkaido's early development; his response was a revelation. In the late 19th century and during post-World War Il occupation, development advisors from the U.S. Army, academia and the private sector poured into Japan. Journeymen from America's heartland particularly reshaped the agribusiness sector of Hokkaido. Together these outsiders partnered to profoundly influence every facet of a nation's rebirth. I shelved that bit of information regarding Japan until fate - and the Army - ordered me to southern Afghanistan in 2006 as an embedded training brigade commander and senior advisor to an Afghan army brigade.
Throughout my tour, I experienced firsthand how decades of civil war and conflict with the Soviet Union devastated the once prosperous fields, farms, herds and remotest villages of the inner valleys and rural plains. In the late 1970s, Afghanistan had a sustainableagriculture economy that provided for its population and competed in international markets. Soviet occupation strategy targeted mujahedeen support among this very infrastructure. Scorch-and-burn tactics decimated the land and effectively incapacitated formerly profitable agrarian livelihoods. The Soviets incinerated and poisoned orchards and destroyed ancient canal systems and wells that were critical to irrigation.
Combined with natural effects of drought, these led even the toughest Afghans to flee centuries-old hereditary homesteads for Soviet-controlled urban areas. Refugees also migrated to neighboring countries and the United States, creating a drain of generational knowledge still affecting Afghanistan. Inevitably, Soviet strategy failed, their troops withdrew and the resultant systemic void left the door wide open for the emergence of corrupt warlords, the extremist Taliban and, ultimately, an influx of drug traders with their seed of choioe - the poppy. Afghans struggling to survive and subsist quickly succumbed to the easy, low-knowhow, high-profit crop. The poppy invaded Afghanistan, supplanting traditional and indigenous staple harvests, and became the illicit cash crop of insurgency.
Engaging an unconventional enemy requires unconventional solutions. Upon my return from Afghanistan, LTG Clyde Vaughn, then director of the Army National Guard, approached me with a novel idea for establishing teams of National Guard members uniquely equipped with civilian expertise in agribusiness. Our National Guard personnel represent a diverse and unique pool of military and civilian skill sets.
Like generations of citizen-soldiers and airmen before them, members of today's Guard are mature, responsible, versatile, competitive and entrepreneurial. Many who muster in hail from jobs associated with agribusiness. The practical expertise of the production farmer, the agriculture education instructor and the agronomy researcher simultaneously serving in uniform is a very positive force-multiplier for the current mission in Afghanistan. …