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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.

Help with PTSD Sleep Problems, Trauma Reminders, Etc

Some great resources for military members and their families struggling with PTSD and other forms of trauma. Resources can be found here

Off The Base

The following is part of an entry by Cybele Merrick on the VA Blog VAntage

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up,” legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said. When you think about it, Coach Lombardi was really talking about coping skillsand resilience. Trauma can knock you down; yet there are now online tools to help you develop valuable coping and problem-solving skills following trauma.

With the release of PTSD Coach Online, you can now go to your desktop or laptop computer anytime to work on skills that can be helpful following trauma. You can use its tools in the privacy and comfort of your own home—or anywhere with Internet access. These are the same type of skills you learn in professional therapy.

PTSD Coach Online extends the reach of the PTSD Coach mobile app’s groundbreaking symptom management tools to those who do…

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May We Never Forget 9/11/01

Video released from the Department of Defense.  With everything going on in the world, I don’t have much else to say right now…except this.  Today I’m remembering those who lost loved ones on 9/11/01 in my prayers.  I’m praying for the many military members still serving this great country away from their families today-and praying for their families serving bravely without them on the home-front.  I’m so thankful for those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for my freedom.  And through everything going on right now, God is in control and has a plan and purpose for all.  May God continue to bless the U.S.A. and may we never forget 9/11/2001!

Remembering Our Fallen

Every time the Remembering Our Fallen Memorial was mentioned, I would get goose bumps.  Clay Center American Legion ready for the escort to arrive.Every time I would mention it was coming to our Clay County Fair, my eyes would moisten. 

Our Extension Office moved out to the Fair early on Wednesday so we could be ready to stand with flags while the Memorial was escorted to our Fair.  The loud roar of motorcycles approaching was soon followed by an amazing site of over 40 Patriot Riders from Omaha to Hastings escorting the Memorial to our Fair.  It was incredibly touching watching them ride in.  Local TV and newspaper crews were on hand to capture the event.  July 11th would mark 9 years since the passing of Clay County residents Jeremy Fischer and Linda Tarango-Griess due to a roadside bomb in Iraq.Over 40 Patriot Riders from Omaha to Hastings escorted the Remembering Our Fallen Memorial to the Clay County Fairgrounds.

That day I just observed the scene from a distance.  I knew I needed time alone to go through the Memorial later.  That time came Sunday morning as it was quiet at the Fair.

Over 80 service men and women from Nebraska have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  Joshua Mann was younger than me, but attended the same high school that I did.  Patrick Hamburger was in the Chinook Helicopter group that often flew into the base my husband was stationed at in Afghanistan in 2011.  Jacob Schmuecker was married to a gal I group up with in my home-town church.  I didn’t know Jeremy Fischer or Linda Tarango-Griess but many in Clay County and the area did.  Very touching to see all the Patriot Riders escort the Memorial to the fairgrounds.

This Memorial is striking and different because it’s about viewing the faces of the fallen.  There are other pictures added of their lives and people leave additional tributes at the Memorial as well.  Scanning the QR codes to watch the tribute videos and reading letters left behind by moms, spouses, relatives, friends, coaches, and fellow service-members brought me to tears.  We must never forget that freedom is not free!

A special thanks to Laurie Jarzynka and her family for organizing the honor escort and getting this Memorial at our Fair.  I will leave you with a video I captured of Jim Fischer, father of fallen soldier Jeremy Fischer, talks about his son and thanks everyone for being there.the Memorial.  May we never forget those that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our Freedom and the families left behind!  God bless all our men and women in uniform and their families and God bless the U.S.A.!

Joshua Mann

Patrick Hamburger2013-07-14 19.15.422013-07-14 10.38.55

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.

Deployment

One year.  Twelve months.  Three hundred sixty five days.  As I’ve aged, time tends to fly by faster.  As a military wife during a deployment, in many ways this has seemed like the slowest year of my life.  Yet here I stand at the dawning of the end with the realization that in some ways, the past year didn’t drag quite as much as I thought.

Looking back on this deployment I find myself remembering some not so proud moments.  There were times I was angry and perhaps a tad bitter and had a downright bad attitude…I remember telling myself “this stinks”.  I remember trying to deposit the hail insurance check written in my husband’s name early on in the deployment…trying to explain I had power of attorney and he was in Afghanistan as I then broke down in tears…it was Aug. 6, 2011, the day the Chinook helicopter went down in eastern Afghanistan and my heart was broken for the families being informed back home.  I remember the kindness of the ladies at the bank as I walked out, swallowed my pride composing myself, and walked back in.  I remember having no sense of joy as God allowed several trials into my life in a very short period of time…and while I had specifically prayed in a way for them, and while God answered that prayer in ways I never imagined possible nor ways I honestly wanted, the pain of the emotional struggle dealing with those trials with a husband half a globe away seemed overbearing at times.  Yet through it all, as I prayed for joy in the midst of them, God allowed me to find joy.  He gave me His strength, peace, comfort.  He helped me to heal and He taught me much in the process.  I can’t imagine going through a deployment or anything in life without God!  He truly is my “refuge and strength, an ever present help in time of trouble”.

For the most part as I reflect, though, I feel I remained strong and positive.  I’m so proud of my husband and all our men and women in uniform!  I’m so proud of the military families left behind carrying the load faithfully, dutifully till their military members return.  I’m thankful for the friendships made along the way at family readiness group, yellow ribbon events, and in informal meetings with various military wives.  I’m thankful for the friendships my husband has made while overseas-friendships that will last a lifetime and that made being away from home a little easier.  I’m thankful for the positive difference my husband and his team have made in the lives of the Afghan people.  I’m thankful God gave me the opportunity to work with these ADT teams since 2008.  I’m thankful to live in the greatest Nation in the world-a free nation-and for those who continue to sacrifice to maintain our freedoms.  I’m thankful God allowed my soldier to return home and my heart aches this Memorial Day for those who aren’t so fortunate…  

As I’ve listened to my husband’s stories and viewed pictures and videos of his missions, my eyes have been opened even more how much I daily take for granted.  This deployment has once again reminded me how much I take my spouse for granted as well.  When he returns, I want to “live everyday like he’s leaving tomorrow” as this military blog post so beautifully points out.  I don’t want to take the day to day things for granted and God has also taught me much about being the wife He wants me to be through this.

I have a sticker on my truck that my husband gave me before he left.  It says, “1/2 of my heart is in Afghanistan”.  I’ve had several people tell me they tear up when they see my truck and that sticker.  The saying is true even though I’m complete in Christ.  I can’t say it hurt quite as much when he first deployed-probably because I was more mentally prepared then-but after coming home for two week leave and leaving again, I truly felt like my heart had been ripped in half.  I’m looking forward to the day when I can remove the sticker but keep it in a place I will always see it to remind me…to remind me of what it was like…to remind me to continually pray for our military and their families back here.  I’m looking forward to the day that my whole heart is back at home with me in the U.S.A.!

Where were you? Remembering 9/11/2001.

“Where were you when the world stopped turning, on that September day?”  Many of us know the words to that Alan Jackson song.  I remember being in soils lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a senior student in agronomy and crop protection.  We left class early after a classmate came in asking us if we heard the news.  I remember huddling around the lounge TV in Burr Hall with numerous other students watching the footage the remainder of the day.  I remember talking to my best friend, Chris, via phone that night about what it all meant.  Much of our conversation held silence as we tried to comprehend the sadness for the families who lost loved ones, the patriotism and love for our country, and the anger we had at those who dared to destroy our freedoms.  We discussed what we could do such as give blood. We prayed for the families and rescue workers.  I remember selling balloons for the Agronomy Club outside Memorial Stadium the Saturday game after 9/11….and hearing the patriotism from the crowd as a unified 70,000+  sang the Star Spangled Banner-I only wish I could’ve been in the stands at the moment to have experienced that as well.  Chris and I weren’t dating yet but he would become my husband-and little did I know that 10 years later, he would be serving our Country in Afghanistan.  

Chris and I have always been very patriotic but for some reason, little things seem to mean so much more to me now being a military wife.  I don’t think of myself as emotional, but a good rendition of the singing of the Star Spangled Banner or driving down streets lined with flags will bring tears to my eyes.   

This September 11 will again be one I will never forget with my husband overseas.  In some ways, it’s kind of neat as he’s on a mission to help the farmers in Afghanistan become more sustainable.  It’s also memorable for me as God has allowed so many details to come together through the years in order for me to be his Unit’s point of contact for obtaining agricultural information from UNL Extension.  I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to help these soldiers…in a small part to show them how much I appreciate what they’re doing for us.  I feel so blessed to work for the Extension system and with a great team of Extension faculty who are committed to this cause-one in which the mission is to provide unbiased, research-based information to the people….not only in our State but throughout the World.  At a time when Extension systems are being cut across the country, other countries see the value of extending information beyond the Universities where information is generated and getting it out to the people to help them improve their lives and sustainability.  That’s what our Nebraska National Guard soldiers including Clay County’s Ashley Koehler from Harvard and my husband on the Agribusiness Development Team are doing in Afghanistan.  They are mentoring local Extension people, setting up research and demonstration farms, teaching classes in poultry and bee production, basic veterinary care, and much regarding crops and irrigation in order to benefit the people and ultimately improve their lives.  That’s what UNL Extension still does today; while it is not the Extension of long ago, it is the Extension that is continually changing in order to adapt to clientele needs.  More of us are using social media to reach a global audience.  More of us are specialized as our clientele are becoming more educated and want to obtain information on a deeper level.  The mission remains the same-to provide unbiased, research-based information to the people.  Our borders have expanded, though.  With the internet, information can be obtained world-wide and with so much information being generated from so many sources, it’s important for Extension to be utilizing tools such as the Web and social media in order to reach a broader audience and for our information to be seen by more people as a reliable source of information.

So this September 11 means a great deal to me as a military wife and as an Extension Educator working with our soldiers.  This ADT2 Team has been gone for 3 months now and one of our UNL Extension Educators, Vaughn Hammond, has joined them to aid in teaching and mentoring Afghan Extension Educators.  For the coming months, I will provide updates on their experiences and what they are doing as it’s not only interesting, but it’s important to hear the good things our soldiers are doing.  

9-11-2001 to 2011…may we never forget.  As I reflect, I’m saying a prayer for the families who lost loved ones that day, for the families who have lost soldiers defending our freedom, and for our soldiers currently serving and their families back home. Please post your comments of where you were that day or what September 11 means to you!

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