- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

OP-ED:

The symbol of the National Guard is the Concord Minuteman with one hand on a musket, the other on a plow. The musket was necessary to gain freedom and peace. The plow created the economic conditions to keep the peace.

Today, modern Minutemen apply this same model with great success in Afghanistan. Agribusiness Development Teams are deployed forward into Afghanistan to assist Afghan universities, government officials and, most important, the local farmers in the field.

Five teams are deployed in provinces across Afghanistan with a sixth team on the way. We will soon expand that number to 12 and could field up to 25 teams.

Teams teach farmers sustainable skills and create economic conditions for sustainable peace. Today, Missouri guardsmen work with Afghan farmers to improve a seed facility in Jalalabad and are restoring the traditional irrigation system. New solar wells fill reservoirs during the day and irrigate the fields at night. Veterinary clinics treat livestock and train Afghans on animal nutrition.

In Ghazni, Texas National Guardsmen are putting systems in place across the entire supply chain. They have built a barn for the sale and purchase of livestock and a modern sanitary meat processing facility. They have built a tannery to provide leather for local craftsmen. This creates not just a food supply, but also jobs for long-term sustainment.

Teams assist in identifying new crops for the region that can replace the dominant poppies. An example is the reintroduction of pomegranates. The area once had an abundance of pomegranate trees that produced a valued export crop.

Decades of conflict destroyed orchards and the centuries-old irrigation infrastructure necessary for their growth. Teams have helped Afghan farmers plant more than 10,000 saplings. Afghans are grateful not only for the trees, but for the return of their cultural heritage.

Each of the 12 teams established a partnership with the major land-grant institution in its state and while deployed use technology to exchange ideas and seek technical assistance. Purdue University has partnered with the Indiana team and Kabul University to train faculty in agronomy, animal science, plant protection, forestry and horticulture. This allows them to provide extension services to farmers in the province.

Habitual, long-term, trusted relationships are being developed between states and their partner province. Missouri works with Nangarhar Province; Texas is in Ghazni; Nebraska supports Parwan Province. This long-term commitment of both National Guard presence supported by the land-grant universities is a model for success.

As the security situation on the ground improves, we will be able to increase the civilian-to-civilian support and phase down the military contribution.

This success can be replicated in other areas. National Guard members have civilian acquired skills. American schools have a long and distinguished public service reputation. These can readily be adapted to support development and reconstruction during the transition from conflict to peace.

Guardsmen with skills in fields like construction, medical, education, police and emergency services could provide an initial surge of civilian skills in an insecure environment that could then transition to nongovernmental organizations and civilian educational institutions as the security situation improves.

The military-to-civilian bridge led to development and reconstruction activity exemplifying the “soft power” approach advocated by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and essential to the new Afghanistan strategy articulated by President Obama.

We have proven this model over many years and in numerous countries. For the last seven years, we have demonstrated success leveraging civilian and military skills with Task Force Phoenix to train Afghan security forces. This shows the capability in the law enforcement arena. Our State Partnership Program has established military-to-military relationships in 60 countries that have expanded over many years into valued civilian-to-civilian programs in support of governance and business development.

In Concord, Mass., the militiamen put down the plow and picked up the musket in 1775 to gain freedom. This tradition continues today, more than 372 years after the first Colonial muster, as the citizen soldiers and airmen of your National Guard, with one hand on an M4 Carbine to promote security and the other on a plow, teach Afghan farmers modern agricultural skills. Americans can be proud of these men and women who are today living their militia heritage serving in these critical roles.

The National Guard: Always Ready, Always There.

Craig R. McKinley, a U.S. Air Force general, is the 26th chief of the National Guard Bureau and the senior uniformed National Guard officer responsible for formulating, developing and coordinating all policies, programs and plans affecting more than half a million Army and Air National Guard personnel.

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