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Impacts from Partnering with Military Serving in Afghanistan

In time for Christmas of 2013, members of the Nebraska National Guard Agribusiness Development Team 4 (NE ADT4) returned home to their families from Afghanistan.  While the NE ADT missions were concluded, lasting impacts in the lives of the Afghan people will hopefully remain for years to come.

Members of NE ADT2, UNL Extension Educator Vaughn Hammond, and Afghan Extension agents after a train the trainer program.

Members of NE ADT2, UNL Extension Educator Vaughn Hammond, and Afghan Extension agents after a train the trainer program.

Our military worked to “win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people by helping them learn how to grow their own food and provide for their families.  You can read more in this post about their missions and ultimately the efforts to train the extension faculty to take the research they were conducting to the people of Afghanistan so their lives could be improved.  This is what Cooperative Extension in the United States does every day for our citizens!

It has been an honor to work beside the men and women defending our Country and our freedom!  It was also a blessing to have a unique insight to the missions and accomplishments of these teams as a military wife serving at home while my husband served with NE ADT2.

Beginning with three UNL Extension faculty providing reach-back to NE ADT1 in 2008, an ADT Training Team grew to over 60 individuals from UNL Extension and Research, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA National Agroforestry Service, UNO’s Center for Afghanistan Studies, and the Nebraska Corp of Army Engineers providing pre-deployment agricultural training followed by reach-back during deployment for NE ADT2-4.

Partnership Impacts:

Since this was the conclusion of this effort, I wished to share a few of the impacts our military shared with me via a survey sent to 27 military members from NE ADT1-4 (n=14 respondents).

  • 93% agreed or strongly agreed that the training received from the ADT training team prior to deployment helped prepare them with information needed during deployment.
  • 93% agreed or strongly agreed that the reach-back they received from the ADT Training Team was timely and helpful.
  • “The help that I received from the UNL extension was priceless. I am very thankful for their support and guidance.”
  •  “…All supporting staff instantly responded to our questions which enabled us to provide feedback to the local Afghan Extension Agents, political reps and the general population.”
  • “During my time in Afghanistan…we had a built in reach-back with Mr. Vaughn Hammond being with us…”
  • “The information provided by UNL Extension and training partners helped us help approximately 10,000 Afghans with crop and livestock projects.”

In their own words….

We often don’t hear about the great impacts our military members have on the Afghan people while they are deployed.  Here are just a few of the many stories in their own words as they share the importance of partnerships during deployment.

I was in constant contact it seemed with a couple members of the UNL extension. Their support guidance and assistance was immeasurable. I received training material from the Beef Basics course for classes I taught to Afghan college students and constantly received ideas and assistance from the extension members.

Drawing on some of the education provided on water resource management, I identified a dam that was in danger of failing..threatening the village below. Emergency efforts were then made to shore up the dam. The livestock and poultry education gave us the base from which to provide training, in turn, to the Afghan people using, in my case, the Center for Educational Excellence (CEE) in Sharana, Paktika. A highlight for me was a series of training on livestock vaccination (FAMACHA) conducted in remote sites – even on a mountain side – in eastern Paktika.

ADT 1 received direction, websites, hard copy fliers, books, and additional training information through mail, email and correspondence. The farm and machinery safety information was vital to the development of an “Operator’s Maintenance / Safety” video and handbook that we developed for the Afghan farmers. But just simply bouncing ideas back and forth was much more beneficial than anything else for me. I’m just so glad that future ADT’s saw the need and developed a plan to initiate Extension and the ADT Training team into their in-state training!

The initial training, relationships created and reach back capability had a direct effect on the success of our mission. I am proud to have had such an excellent working relationship with UNL and the ADT training team during our deployment.

During our time in Afghanistan we made a train the trainer program for the Ag Extension Agents and DAIL staff to utilize. A lot of the material that was given to us and from our training were put into the training program.

The NRCS training we received in Texas pre-deployment gave us a good idea of the terrain, crops and irrigation practices. Agroforestry helped in identifying tree species. The Nemaha NRD assisted by providing a template of their Tree Program which we started in the Paktya Province with their MAIL & Extension Agents. UNL Extension was vital to our success in many ways by providing an Extension Educator (Vaughn Hammond) as well as advice on many relevant topics. Our mission success would not been as great without the support of UNL Extension and the ADT training team.

Reunion and Reintegration

This morning I woke up excited.   Welcome Home Banner for returning military members

Today the Nebraska National Guard Agribusiness Development Team 3 (NE ADT3) would be reunited with their families!  I found myself going back 10 months ago to the day after Memorial Day 2012.  That was the day several of us were reunited with our soldiers and airmen from NE ADT2.

Today I was remembering bouncing up and down while holding hands with other military spouses watching the bus with our military members pull up.  I remember seeing my husband get off the bus and running to his arms.  I remember that even amidst all the family members and friends gathered that day, the military members were always gravitating towards each other-looking for each other.  Sure, they were excited to be home too….but their best friends….their battle buddies who they’d spent the past year with was who they felt most comfortable with at that moment.

I remember how tired they all were-how they all just wanted to go home…and yet how quickly they all missed each other.  I remember so many things being overwhelming to my husband…crowds of people and everyone asking him the same questions, going to Golden Corral after we left the welcome-home event and him being overwhelmed by the amount of food available to eat (he ended up eating very little), going to a grocery store where we have such a variety of EVERYTHING and having so many choices…

We truly are so blessed in the U.S.A. and take these blessings for granted everyday!

As I drove to the welcome home ceremony today, I thought back on this post and how I left many of you hanging about what happened next.  Honestly, I’ve started many draft posts but struggled to know what to write or really what to share.

Many think that once our military members return that all is right in our world.  But the reality is that while there’s a honeymoon period, there’s also a great deal of hard work to make reintegration occur.  You see, military members and their families have been living in two different worlds the past year.  My husband and his comrades were living in similar to Biblical times working with great people but yet always had to be on guard for the enemy.  I was living in a fast-paced techno-savvy world trying to hold everything together here.  We both were fortunately forming bonds with military buddies and spouses that will last a lifetime.  I was safe at home with my dogs.  He and some of his comrades had close calls with death.

I will never know…

what it was like for him to leave home and everyone he loved to serve a Country that he loves and was willing to lay his life down for.  To work as hard as he could so he could go to bed exhausted in hopes of not missing the home he loved so much.  He will never know what it’s like on this end…to have everything in our home remind me of him, to spend endless nights and go to countless events alone, to hold my breath at every bit of news I hear from overseas, and to continually say silent prayers throughout the day for all our military members and their families.  But these are the sacrifices military members and their families are willing to make to defend the cause of freedom.  We love this Nation and are so proud of and thankful for those who are willing to defend her!

Since the deployment, I learned that it was hard for him to want to connect with home and me.  His coping strategy was to not connect so he could focus on the mission and not think about home or worry about how things were going here.  (He now would never recommend this strategy to any military member!)  My coping strategy was to send him letters and packages-to show him he was loved and missed.  But lack of communication is hard on a marriage and it takes time to re-build that.  I would say for many military couples, reintegration is even harder than the deployment and separations themselves.  We all have good intentions for a good reintegration…we learn what to watch for and have resources available to help…but the reality is that we’ve been going two different directions for a period of time.  It takes work to bring those lives back into the same direction again.  But it’s worth the effort!

One way that helped us get away and start communicating again was to attend a Family Life Weekend to Remember Event.  There are discount rates for military members and their spouses and there are special locations where there are military emphasis breakout sessions for military couples to talk about military specific issues such as deployments, separations, addictions, etc.  It really helped us to start that conversation again and I would encourage any married couple to attend one!

I smile everytime…

I see my husband going through his Afghanistan pictures with the sweetest smile on his face.  I know he misses it…he misses the daily work with hisADT2 speaking about their mission in Afghanistan to a packed audience at the Sprague Community Church buddies and the difference they were making in the Afghan people’s lives.  My husband took lots of pictures and video with his helmet cam.  As he shared his stories, I realized how much I take for granted.  His buddies and us wives have also often gotten together as the guys have spoken at various events.  Those are good things-things I will continue to encourage.

I’m so thankful God allowed my husband to be on that deployment with great leadership and friendships.  I know he’d go back in a heartbeat-especially if he could go with the same people he served with.  I think of these Agribusiness Development Teams’ mission to provide for a sustainable Afghanistan…to teach the people how to feed themselves and provide for their families…of the successes that have been achieved.  I’m praying for a sustainable Afghanistan and hope that one day-maybe in 10 years-my husband and I can both go and see the places he was, meet the people, and hear the stories of how their lives were changed as a result of our brave men and women serving.

Veteran’s Day Thoughts-from my husband

For this Veteran’s Day, my wife asked me to write my thoughts on being a Veteran.  I have served in the Nebraska Army National Guard for seven years now, and it has been a great opportunity to build myself as a person.  I have been able to improve leadership skills, physical fitness, planning, self defense, and many other aspects.

I had the honor of serving with Nebraska Agribusiness Development Team Two (NE ADT 2) in Afghanistan from June 2011 through May 2012.  It was an incredible experience helping subsistence farmers improve their livelihood.  We worked with Afghan government officials to develop projects in agronomy, livestock, forestry, watershed, beekeeping, and education.  Our efforts allowed to make many friends among the Afghan population which I will always cherish.

One of the best experiences from my deployment was the friendships I made within our unit.  When you start training together you form a cohesive bond.  And when you arrive in a combat zone, that bond let’s you know that you have someone covering your back.  You share experiences and hardships together that normal civilians can’t fully understand.  Living so long away from families can be a definite struggle, and in essence you become one big family away from home.  There are the endless days of hard work, long walks to the chow hall, lack of privacy, frustrating rules, and the thought that somewhere outside the wire are people that want to kill you.  You become frustrated, and can’t wait to get away from it all.  And then when you finally come home, there are times when you miss it and wish you were back with all your friends.

As a veteran, there are times when people will thank me for my service and I am not sure how to respond.  I don’t think of myself as a hero, I am just fortunate to have the opportunity to do something I love to do.  I have gotten to experience some situations and travel to locations I would have never seen if I was not a member of the military.  I have been able to build my skills, and lead Soldiers while setting an example for those under me.  And most important, I have made many valuable friendships that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

On this day of remembrance, I say thank you to those I have had the opportunity to serve with, those who served before us, and those who are still in harm’s way.  We are forever indebted to our military members, from those who fought for our independence and freedom from England to those who are still in the hostile terrain of Afghanistan.  They have provided security and provided hope to countless Americans.  God bless the United States of America.

You can also check out this Webinar from Vaughn Hammond, UNL Extension Educator who served with NE ADT2 and tells more about the NE Agribusiness Development Team Mission from his perspective.

Bridging War & Hope

During my husband’s deployment, I came in contact with Luke Heikkila, a producer for Twin Cities Public Television.  Luke embedded with the Minnesota National Guard Agribusiness Development Team in Zabul Province Afghanistan for a few weeks in order to tell their story of the great work they have done in helping the Afghan farmers and the Afghan people.
Below is the link to Luke’s documentary which can be watched in half an hour and really provides a great perspective on the work our soldiers are doing on these teams and the goals of their missions.  I hope you take time to watch and thank you to all our military members for your service to our Country!

Bridging War and Hope Documentary

 

Remembering 9/11/01

September 11, 2001.  A day that many of us won’t forget what we were doing when we heard of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center.  I reminisce about what I was doing at that moment in this post from last year.  

Today I’m praying for the families who lost loved ones that day.  I’m praying for the families who have lost military members who answered the call to defend our nation after that day.  I’m praying for the military members currently serving overseas and for their families who are separated from them this day.  I’m thankful that God allowed my husband to return to me safely.

This past year, there wasn’t a day that my husband walked out of his living quarters over in Afghanistan where he didn’t think about 9/11/01.  The qulat where it was believed the 9/11 attacks were planned stood on his FOB (Forward Operating Base) just outside of where he slept.  Every day he said he looked at it and it reminded him why he was in Afghanistan…why he originally decided to join the Army National Guard and serve.

During the deployment, I received several questions from people.  One of them which occurred more than I care to admit was, “What are we even doing in Afghanistan?”.  To which I responded, “Have you forgotten about 9/11?”.  Sometimes deep down I would be upset…upset that we can so quickly forget the attack on our nation and the lives lost that day while the members of our military bravely put their lives on the line daily for us and our freedom.  

Sometimes in the business of life I would just stop and look around…people rushing around going about life as if no war was even occurring.  I wonder if that bothers those who return from war or if they view this as they’ve done their job so that we can continue on with our lives?  Those of us at home with loved ones away never forget; we may still be busy but we never forget.  Yet I tried to channel that upset feeling to one of thankfulness…Thankful to all who have and are serving to continue to keep this great Nation free.  Thankful that we don’t have to experience what it’s like to have bombs going off daily on our home soil; I think often of the children in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Thankful that we can go about a daily life without having to sacrifice much of anything.  I think that’s what we’ve lost in this war.  The ability to know what it’s like to sacrifice in order to contribute to the greater good like the Great Generation did during World War II.  Ultimately I’m thankful to live in this Nation created under God, thankful for our freedom, and thankful for those who continue to protect this freedom!  May God bless America and may we never forget 9/11/01!

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