National Guard units from Iowa and from other farm states are working to help people in Afghanistan rebuild their agricultural sector after decades of war. Captain Peter Shinn, with the Iowa Air National Guard’s 734th Agri-Business Development Team, says during a tour of that nation last year, his team of farmer-soldiers couldn’t make any moves to help the Afghan farmers learn modern techniques unless they had a sizeable escort.
“We could not conduct our mission inside the wire,” Shinn says. “We had to go out and deal with the Afghan people, the Afghan farmers, the Afghan government officials. To do that, in order to leave the forward operating base, we had to bring at least 16 of our closest friends, armed, in four armored vehicles. That was the minimum amount of support for us to go and do anything.”
Shinn says his team of so-called Dirt Warriors worked with the Afghan farmers on a variety of commodities, including corn, wheat and grapes. “Agriculture is extremely important to the economy of Afghanistan,” Shinn says.
“That’s one of the reasons that the National Guard has sent agribusiness development teams over there. It’s because if the life of the average Afghan is going to improve, they’re going to have to do better in terms of agricultural production and agriculture value.” During their ten-month deployment, Shinn says the National Guard members found the Afghans were more appreciative of a “show-me” mentality when it came to ag techniques, like how using a small tractor could be much more effective than manually planting.
Shinn says, “We had to build some demonstration farms that we controlled so we could actually have place for them to go and learn.”
The goals of the mission included helping the Afghans learn to better provide for their families — and eventually their country — while maintaining their sense of dignity and self worth. The team of Iowa Guardsmen also included: soil specialists, veterinary staff and water specialists.