CA Nat'l Guard to aid farmers in Afghanistan

October 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The California National Guard is sending a select team of men and women to Afghanistan for a year to help farmers there. They'll be working in the dangerous Kunar Province.

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ABC7 caught up with First Sergeant John Hanson and his family on a visit to San Francisco, just before he shipped out to Afghanistan, for a unique tour of duty.

He and a team of more than 60 soldiers with the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division are going to the Kunar Province to work with farmers for a year.

"We're going to be assigned to a province in eastern Afghanistan to try help develop their economy in the agri-business area. It's going to be a very challenging mission, but very rewarding," said Sgt. John Hanson.

The soldiers, like all military in Afghanistan, will be carrying guns of course. Most have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. But they are also armed with civilian expertise in modern agricultural development. They trained on a farm through Cal Poly in Pomona.

"Since we're the first team to go into this province, our basic goal is to make contacts, show the people of the province that we're there to support them," said Sgt. Hanson.

The California National Guard's team will help afghan farmers improve the soil, by teaching them how to create compost piles.

"A composting type operation on a larger scale because the soil there hasn't been replenished," said Sgt. Hanson.

Some of the projects considered are ways to improve the food supply.

"The chicken hatchery where they can get fresh eggs and develop chickens, healthy chickens, as well as a seed bank where they can get good seeds. They have to import everything they do. Afghanistan, say 20-30 years ago used to support itself and about 70 percent grew its own food. Today, that's less than 40 percent in its ability to grow food for the country," said Sgt. Hanson.

One goal is to steer farmers away from growing poppy crops for opium, which is fueling the Taliban-led insurgency and the international drug trade. But, even more importantly for the Afghans, the California National Guard will help them build a sustainable future.

That noble effort comes at a cost. First Sgt. Hanson has to leave his wife of 25 years and two children for a year on a risky mission in a volatile country.

In 2004, he was sent to Iraq for a year. The kids, Travis and Keely, were a lot younger then. Travis is 18 now and Keely is 21 and they both are in college.

"It was a big factor in my life as far as growing up and trying to be mature and being the man of the house," said Travis Hanson.

Keely is working on a double major in political science and sociology.

"For as long as I can remember, I've been debating political ideas with him at the dinner table," said Keely Hanson.

"It's going to be interesting. It's exciting that they're going in and really trying to help the people there get back, where they are more self sufficient," said Sgt. Hanson's wife Annette Hanson.

"It's definitely going to be a good mission," said Travis.

"That really allows us as a family to say we're willing to take the sacrifice, because what he's going to be able to over there and do, is going to be able to last for generations," said Keely. "To help the people of Afghanistan, actually be able to stand up for themselves, to take action and stimulate their local economy, provide them with jobs, provide them with the ability to feed their families and not live in fear."

We plan to follow first Sgt. Hanson and the California National Guard's agricultural development team in Afghanistan and bring you reports on their progress.

Sergeant Hanson's family has been notified by the city of Carmel, where he works, that their medical benefits are being discontinued. ABC7 have that part of the story on Monday night.

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