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Minnesota National Guard
Operation Agriculture: Minnesota Guard assists Afghan farmers

Minnesota National Guard Agricultural Development Teams deploy farming experts to help rebuild Afghanistan's war torn food system

When most National Guard units prepare to deploy to Afghanistan, they focus on tactical training--land navigation, weapons skills, working with interpreters, counter-IED techniques, basic first aid

But Colonel Eric Ahlness, commander of the Minnesota National Guard's Zabul Agribusiness Development Team, or ADT, brought his unit to an Amish farm

The goal? To wrap their minds around the constraints of farming without modern mechanizations "I wanted us to begin thinking in a different way," Ahlness explained

After all, when Ahlness and his team arrived in the Zabul province of Afghanistan in the fall of 2011, they were there on a unique mission: to work with local government and the local farmers, the majority of whom had no access to modern amenities of any kind Their task--to help rebuild a sustainable agricultural economy in a country long torn apart by war--bridged the gap between hope and conflict

"We asked ourselves with every decision: If we do this, will the Afghans be able to sustain it when we're gone?"

Ahlness, who grew up in a farming community in southwest Minnesota, has worked full time for the National Guard since 1986 But this mission was different, beginning with the selection of the volunteer team, which included twelve soldiers with previous agricultural expertise "In everything else we do in the military, you're asked to leave civilian skill sets behind," Ahlness said "But here I could pick twelve individuals based solely on civilian skills" Rank didn't matter Neither did military branch What Ahlness needed was a group that could make a difference, one that could tackle problems big and small, alone and together, a group with knowledge of livestock and soil, water and fertilizer, pesticides and bees

Once selected, the small team, which would be joined by both support and security staff, spent a week at North Dakota State University boning up on all matter of agriculture, including raising beef, growing alfalfa, and keeping bees They also traveled to California to learn more about the Afghani orchard crops, such as almonds and grapes, unfamiliar to the many native Minnesotans They gained access to a handful of Amish farms near Utica through the connections of a local team member There, they spent days observing everything from how the Amish cared for goats to how they used machinery, how they bypassed the need for electricity to how they operated a greenhouse with wood heat alone "We asked a lot of questions," said Ahlness

Despite the training, when they arrived in Afghanistan, the team realized the hurdles they'd face--large ones "We stepped back in time," said Major Cheryl Wachenheim, a professor of agriculture and livestock at North Dakota State University and member of the National Guard since 1998

The farms they began visiting in Zabul consisted of what Wachenheim considered little more than backyard kitchen gardens There was little mechanization No tractors They didn't use fertilizers, and only some limited pesticides Most things were done by hand After 30 years at war, the region had lost a generation of farmers--and farming knowledge "The agriculture itself is a very hundred years ago kind of agricultural," said Wachenheim "The whole infrastructure that supports our agriculture here in the US--all those everyday things, regular markets, reliable transportation, cash flow--none of that exists there"

Over the course of ten and a half months on the ground the Minnesota ADT team completed more than 800 missions, side by side with local coalition forces and the Zabul Province Department of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (DAIL) They worked to bypass the need for crops that require refrigeration, encouraging other high value crops like almonds, or drying apricots and grapes They conducted soil analysis and looked closely at the local techniques for watering crops, battling long-held lore One member of the team worked to reintroduce an Asian bee population, which could better withstand both the local predators and diseases than the European bee population already in place They helped the DAIL organize a veterinary seminar, animal inoculation program, and open a slaughterhouse The female soldiers in the unit worked closely with local Afghan women, mentoring and in some cases encouraging their own entrepreneurial ideas such as managing a small goat's milk yogurt operation

Though the agricultural experts were split into seven different locations within the province, they did have help from home Experts at North Dakota State University and UC Davis were on hand to analyze photographs--are the bumps on this walnut tree fungal or insect related?--and problem-solve from a distance "I was all alone," said Wachenheim, "but not really"

Myths remained pervasive--on when to irrigate crops, how to save water, on when to prune grape Change was fraught with unease "There was a cultural reluctance to leave what keeps them alive," explained Ahlness "I mean, they have a process, and it might not be very good, but they have no safety net If the crop fails, people will perish They are distrustful of making changes"

Throughout the deployment, Ahlness concentrated on the future Knowing that the US would soon be pulling out of the war in Afghanistan that had now raged for more than a decade, he wanted to make sure the locals took the lead--and kept it "We asked ourselves with every decision: If we do this, will the Afghans be able to sustain it when we're gone?" said Ahlness "If the answer was no, we wouldn't move forward"

The momentum they sustained while deployed followed them home Staff Sergeant Amy Monson, who deployed as a medic in the support staff, decided to switch careers while in Afghanistan "It was a full, dramatic change," she said with a laugh Today, she has four semesters left of an agricultural degree at North Dakota State University After graduation she hopes to teach another generation of hopefuls how to farm

By Molly Birnbaum on May 15, 2013
Images provided by Major Cheryl Wachenheim



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Article source
http://modernfarmer.com/2013/05/operation-agriculture/



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Month of the Military Child recognizes contributions of military kids

Posted: 2018-04-07  01:54 PM
Minnesota National Guard FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 7, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn.- The month of April is designated as the Month of the Military Child to recognize the contributions and sacrifices military children make so their family members can serve. An estimated 15,000 children in Minnesota have been affected by the deployment of a parent.

"Military children bear a lot while their family members serve," said Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard. "It is up to us to support these resilient kids and help to lessen their burden."

An event to honor military kids in Minnesota will take place April 13, 2018, at the Mall of America rotunda from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Activities will include appearances by the Teddy Bear Band and meet and greets with Nickelodeon characters.



Forging a path to career success

Posted: 2018-03-16  08:45 AM
Col. Angela Steward-Randle ST. PAUL, Minn. - Col. Angela Steward-Randle grew up in a military family - her father served in the Army on active duty - but it was a chance encounter with a friend at college that led her to want to make the military a career.

"My story is no different than many others," Steward-Randle, the Director of Human Resources, Manpower and Personnel for the Minnesota National Guard said. "I was in college and looking for financial resources to help pay for it."

Her college friend suggested they attend a summer training with the Reserve Officer Training Corps that had no obligation and could earn them some money. The friend never ended up going, but Steward-Randle did. After earning recognition as the top honor graduate and receiving an offer of a scholarship, she was hooked.



Minnesota Guardsman Receives Award for Combating Drugs in his Community

Posted: 2018-03-09  03:13 PM
Counterdrug WOODBURY, Minn. - Staff Sgt. Benjamin Kroll, an analyst with the Minnesota National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force who is assigned to work with the Hennepin County Sherriff's Office was recognized for his achievements as the Analyst of the Year during the 2018 Minnesota Association of Crime and Intelligence Analysts Training Symposium in Woodbury, Minnesota, March 7, 2018.

Through a partnership with Minnesota law enforcement agencies throughout the state, the Minnesota National Guard Counterdrug Task Force (MNCDTF) supports the anti-drug initiatives to counter all primary drug threats and vulnerabilities through the effective application of available assets, said Maj. Jon Dotterer, Counterdrug Coordinator for the State of Minnesota. The goal for the program is to support federal, state, tribal, and local agencies in the detection, disruption, interdiction, and curtailment of illicit drugs.

Kroll is one of sixteen service members on the Counterdrug Task Force that provides this force-multiplying service to our communities against illicit drug-use. With the information that law enforcement provide through their patrols and daily operations, Kroll and his colleagues across the state assist by putting together a figurative picture with all of the gathered information which aids in identifying how to move forward with legal action to deter or prevent the sale or use of illegal narcotic drugs.



Women Opened Doors in Minnesota National Guard

Posted: 2018-03-08  09:05 AM
Minnesota National Guard ST. PAUL, Minn. - "The battlefront is no place for women to be," said Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Kurtzweg, 125th Field Artillery, in an article published in 1976. "There are certain jobs girls say they can do, but they just can't do ... the battlefront is no place for women to be. Other countries in the world use women in combat, but the U.S. has not come around to that way of thinking." Kathy Berg, a New Ulm reporter summarized at the time. "So women in the New Ulm unit take care of personnel files and pay records and leave the fighting to the men."

The Minnesota National Guard has "come around to that way of thinking" since those early days of gender integration. In the last 44 years women have made momentous strides toward inclusion and acceptance. Their accomplishments are testimony to their fortitude and the progressive development of the Minnesota National Guard.

When an accomplished female Soldier is credited with breaking barriers she will often pass that honor to the women that preceded her. Brig. Gen. Johanna Clyborne is such a leader. She acknowledges that she is one of the first females in the Minnesota National Guard who has held key leadership roles, however she sees it differently. "I feel responsible for all women in uniform," said Clyborne. "Women before me opened the door, now I've cleared the room. It's up to the women behind me to hold the room."



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