Military team melds farming, business savvy for Afghanistan

Kansas National Guard Capt. Trent Miller holds his son, Hayden, while standing with his wife, Christy. Miller will be going to Afghanistan next year with the Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team.

A team of Kansas National Guard troops will go to Afghanistan next year to combine its military and civilian skills and help to improve the country’s agricultural capabilities.

“We’re looking at agricultural-type tasks, while at the same time we have to provide security for when we go out to villages and interact with the populace,” said Capt. Trent Miller, of Eudora. “We’ve got two ongoing missions rolled into one.”

A team of 60 Army and Air Guard members has been specially selected for an agribusiness development team.

In February, the team’s members will begin their year-long deployment to Laghman Province in northeastern Afghanistan.

A few other states have sent National Guard ADTs to Afghanistan, including Missouri, Nebraska and Texas.

This is the first team for Kansas. Two more ADTs will be formed and will take their turns at deployments to the same province over a three-year period.

Team members were selected for their skills and knowledge about agriculture, business and related areas.

Laghman Province produces 70 percent of the rice consumed in Afghanistan, said ADT commander Col. Eric Peck, who works full time for the Guard and also operates a ranch near Manhattan. Other crops are wheat, corn and various fruits and vegetables.

“Most of the goods either don’t make it or they have a lot of loss because they don’t have proper storage for their grain crops,” Peck said.

The farmers are having to ship their products by truck into Pakistan for processing and then have them shipped back where they have to be sold at a high price, Peck said.

The ADT also plans to look at irrigation practices, planting and animal production to see where improvements can be made, Peck said.

“We’ve got a lot of information, but until we get over there and figure out what the folks want, we won’t know whether we’ve got the right skill sets,” Peck said. He and a few other ADT members will go to Afghanistan in December to visit with provincial leaders.

Some information has been gleaned from phone conversations with the Missouri ADT, which is operating in an adjoining province.

“A lot of it is that each place is unique. It’s difficult to do a cookie-cutter approach,” Peck said, describing MIssouri’s lessons learned.

Afghanistan is known for its poppy fields, which produces opium used to make heroin. Poppies are not grown extensively in Laghman, but there are some there, Peck said.

“It’s not our direct mission to make them stop growing poppy, but the way to do that is to give them something that produces an income and gives them something to eat,” Peck said.

Laghman is about a three-hour drive east of the capital, Kabul, and one province west of the Pakistan border. Miller oversees the training to prepare the ADT for handling combat security. Some of the soldiers and airmen come from combat units and others from service and support units. Afghanistan will be Miller’s second deployment. He spent a year in Kosovo, which is still an imminent-danger zone.

“Our mission there was to provide a safe and secure environment if there was a threat, but we also were concentrated on other efforts,” he said.

Kansas State University is partnering with the Guard in the agricultural effort. Issues that come up will be researched by K-State and recommendations made. ADT members also are meeting with Afghan students to learn more about the culture, Peck said.