WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Veterans Day this year, think about farmers. Agricultural production has always been a target in war. Time and again, history has shown us that the enemy can be weakened by blocking or destroying the food supply.


In a twist, there are some U.S. farmers deploying to Afghanistan in special National Guard units called Agri-Business Development Teams, or ADTs. Their job is to increase food production in Afghanistan in an effort to rebuild the country's economy. "This is absolutely critical to our success there," said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff. He noted, "These farmer-soldiers represent the strategic tip of the spear."


Since 2008, these teams of 50-70 people, including 15-20 with highly specialized agricultural knowledge, have been assigned to different provinces in Afghanistan. Their mission is to support allies and build security by helping the people of Afghanistan become more effective and efficient food producers.


Agriculture accounts for 45 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product, with more than 80 percent of the population involved in farming, herding or both. If you look at those numbers separately, they seem impressive. Together, though, the numbers indicate output is not efficient.


The ADTs - sometimes called "Dirt Warriors" - are working with Afghanistan's Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock as well as local leaders to build an educational network similar to our Extension Service. The American soldiers are providing education, training and experience to Afghanistan civilians interested in improving the country's agriculture.


Many of the ADT members have solid farming experience behind them. After all, they come from 15 states well-known for their agricultural know-how. Despite that, they knew that showing the Afghanis how we do things in America was not going to gain them respect or adoption of best practices. They spent time with university ag specialists who had worked in developing countries. They called on groups of U.S. farmers who had experience with low-input agriculture. But don't be lulled into thinking this is a walk in the pasture.


ADT members are National Guard soldiers. They took part in military training because they clearly would be working in dangerous areas. They don't go to meetings in jeans and work shirts; they wear combat gear and carry guns. Some have been involved in lengthy firefights and have been noted for their valor. Despite all this, they always focus on their mission of revitalizing Afghanistan's agriculture in hopes of creating security there...and here at home for us.


States that have sent ADTs to Afghanistan include Missouri (which sent the first unit), Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. You can read more about their experiences at http://www.ng.mil/features/adt/default.aspx.


SOURCE: American Farm Bureau