A former forester with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will be returning to his home in Fairfield soon after completing a one-year assignment in Afghanistan. Ray Lehn has been in the remote province of Nuristan helping local villagers improve their production of fruits, nuts and other crops through the U.S.D.A.’s Foreign Ag Service.
Lehn, who spoke with Iowa Public Radio via the internet, says initially he was able to travel by helicopter into several nearby districts.
“With the increase in insurgency, the military has basically deemed that most of Nuristan is not worth wasting their assets on,” Lehn said. “Currently, for the last month or so, we’ve been held to working within a five to six mile radius around our base.”
The 53-year-old Lehn says Nuristan is somewhat removed from the heaviest conflict in Afghanistan, but security is still tight. “Any time we go outside the base, it’s a minimum of four armored mine-resistant vehicles…big, huge vehicles,” Lehn said. “We used to drive armored Humvees. But, after striking an IED and blowing some of them up, we don’t even take those light-armored vehicles anymore.”
A military security unit of at least 20 soldiers accompanies all trips outside the base. Lehn, who will complete his one-year assignment in February, expects a surge of civilian workers from the U.S.D.A. in the coming months – just as a buildup of U.S. military presence occurs. Lehn was a guest on the Iowa Public Radio program “The Exchange.”