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Cultivating Afghanistan: Replacing the 119th

The Indiana National Guard has made a five-year commitment to agricultural development in Khost Province, Afghanistan. As the first Agribusiness Development Team, or ADT, finishes up its deployment, the second ADT organizes to replace them.

The Indiana National Guard’s 119th Agribusiness Development Team was the first unit of Hoosier farmer-soldiers to deploy to Khost Province, a wild, insurgency-plagued region in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands.  And after a year-long mission, it’s time for the 219th ADT, to continue the development work.

Speaking from the giant American air base at Bagram, Afghanistan, 219th commander Col. Michael Osburn said the 119th team has a transition plan.

“We’ll wind up and hook up with our counterparts; the commander, sergeant major, deputy will hook up with out counterparts and see exactly what’s going on," Osburn said.  "They’ve got a robust plan for us.”

Afghans place great emphasis on personal relationships and tribal loyalty, so the ADTs are emphasizing Indiana’s commitment to the region and its people and the connections between the Hoosier teams. Osburn says the transition plan includes many meetings with tribal elders -- which the military calls Key Leader Engagements -- to introduce the new team.

“And I believe they’ve got the leaders coming, again, so that we can do a face-to-face, and they can see who we are and we can see who they are," Osburn said.

Col. Dan McMillan, the deputy commander of the 219th, said his team will continue the first team’s work with hydrology, orchard management and education, as well as start some new projects of their own.

“Well, one of the things we’ve been working with Purdue is a grain storage project," he said.  "Another thing we’re toying with is possibly a micro-cannery or something like that. I know the first team’s worked a little bit with the local slaughterhouse. Hoping to expand on that, get them set up with a little more sanitary environment.”

Back in Indiana, the 219th ADT went through combat training at Camp Atterbury, as well as language and culture classes at Indiana University. Led by professor Kevin McNamara, Purdue University provided Afghan-appropriate agricultural education.

“We’ve been working with the Indiana Agribusiness Development Team and Agribusiness Development Teams from a few other states to help prepare them for going to Afghanistan as an ADT," McNamara said.  "To help them understand basic agriculture, to understand the difference between U.S. agriculture and Afghan agriculture and kind of give them types of things to look for or the types of marginal changes they might make to help Afghans improve their agricultural output.”

But Command Sergeant Major Pat Fromme said training in Indiana only partially prepares the soldiers for the Afghan reality they experienced almost immediately:

“The first big clue that we weren’t at Camp Atterbury anymore was when the missile blew up that landed back there behind the tent," he said.  "That wasn’t an artillery simulator. That was the real thing.”

In our final segment: The 119th returns home.

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