Iowa National Guard Ag Team Completes "Old School" Training

  • Published
  • By Captain Peter Shinn
  • 734th Agri-Business Development Team
In less than two months, the Iowa National Guard's 734th Agri-Business Development Team will relieve the California National Guard's 40th ADT in Afghanistan's Kunar Province. But no ADT goes to Afghanistan without extensive agricultural training, and Iowa's 734th ADT is no exception.

Starting in April, agricultural specialists with the 734th ADT got intensive classroom and hands-on training from Iowa State University Extension specialists in everything from small-scale chicken farming to basic crop production. That training wrapped-up on June 4, 2010 at the ISU Field Extension Education Lab near Boone, Iowa, with an awards presentation to ISU staff members by Col. Craig Bargfrede, 734th ADT Commander.

"ISU has provided us tremendous support to date," Bargfrede said. "The training has been top-notch and they're going to provide us with an excellent reach-back capability should we run into any issues or problems that we don't know how to handle once we reach Afghanistan."

Forty to 50 years ago, Afghanistan was one of the more rapidly developing nations in Central Asia. But from the mid-1970s on, civil unrest and warfare destroyed much of Afghanistan's agricultural infrastructure. Today, the majority of Afghan farmers use draft animals instead of farm machinery for their fieldwork. Basic livestock disease prevention protocols are not widely practiced. Foot and mouth disease is endemic. That's why much of the training ISU provided to the Iowa ADT hearkened back to practices a hundred years old or more.

"I know they dug out some of their reference materials from the early twentieth century," said Lt. Col. Neil Stockfelth, who leads the Iowa ADT's Ag Section. "So they had both the experience and knowledge to answer some of those questions that go back a long way in time."

Not only was the ISU training specific to the conditions the ADT is likely to find in Afghanistan, it was also extremely broad-based. Maj. Loren Adams, the ADT's veterinarian, described the training's wide scope as an advantage.

"We've all learned a little bit about everything," Adams said. "I think we're all going to be much more ready to handle the mission in front of us."

A number of experienced Iowa farmers are on the ADT. Among them is Staff Sgt. Ben Groth, who operates a diversified crop and livestock operation with his father near Moville, Iowa. According to Groth, the ISU training gave him additional tools that will come in handy during the deployment.

"I thought I was prepared but I feel a lot better now after this," Groth said. "We got a real variety of basic skills we're going to need over there."

For their part, ISU Extension leaders viewed the ADT training as an opportunity to extend the university's reach in a truly global fashion, and at the same time, provide direct support to the nation's Armed Forces. ISU Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach Dr. Gerald Miller has had a distinguished academic career at one of the top land grant universities in the United States. He is also a retired Army National Guard Major General.

"ISU and ISU Extension are very pleased and proud that we were asked to be a part of this training," said Miller. "It's just a great way for our faculty and staff to provide service to our state and our nation."

While Afghanistan's agriculture industry is much smaller-scale than is typical for Iowa, that doesn't mean Afghani farmers will respond much differently than their American counterparts when given the opportunity to improve their productivity and profitability. Dr. John Lawrence, Associate Dean of Extension and Outreach for the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said that's why the Iowa National Guard is a natural for the ADT mission.

"Farmers in particular are the same around the world in the sense that they're very innovative - they know soils, they know plants and animals quite well," Lawrence said. "This ADT can help them evaluate their situation, maybe bring a couple of new ideas to them - help them think through best how to solve their problems."

The ADT concept is a National Guard initiative. ADTs help Coalition forces in Afghanistan achieve counterinsurgency success by improving the capacity of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to provide food security and ag-related economic opportunities for its citizens.

The first ADT deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. Currently, there are nine ADTs from different states on the ground in Afghanistan. The 734th ADT will have a formal send-off at Camp Dodge, Iowa, on July 1, 2010.

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