Cal Guard unit winning hearts, minds in Afghanistan

May 3, 2010 6:47:10 PM PDT
ABC7 has been following a Northern California family and the progress of a team of soldiers in Afghanistan from the California National Guard's Agribusiness Development Team (ADT).

ABC7's Cheryl Jennings recently checked in with First Sgt. John Hanson to see how the work is going and how his family is doing while he is gone for a year's deployment

"Since we last talked, we vaccinated close to 14,000 head of animals, goats, cows, sheep," he said from Kunar Province, Afghanistan via Skype.

We asked about how their efforts are playing on the hearts and minds of the Afghan people there.

"What we discovered, people here are at the very, very low end of the poverty scale and their animals are extremely important to them," he said. "So, we decided to do this because it was something we could do very quickly, and had a lot of knowledge and background with the people we brought."

They call it the "Vetcap Program," where Cal Guard agricultural specialists are teaching Afghan veterinarians how to conduct large-scale vaccination clinics to improve the health of livestock.

"Their survivability increases. The parasites are going to be reduced to very little, which means the animals would be able to survive the winter in numbers far greater than they would have otherwise. So, it's a big thing for them," explained Col. Max Velte with the ADT.

Sometimes, things get physical dealing with frightened animals who try get away from their handlers. Hanson often has to get right in the middle of things, helping control runaway animals so they can be inspected for health concerns and vaccinated.

21-year-old Specialist Kathy Tanson from Corning, near Redding, says she really likes the mission. She is the only woman on the agribusiness team in the Kunar Province.

"I'm not going to lie, I was nervous," she told ABC7. "But, once we hit the ground, I was ready to roll."

She and the team see poverty that so extreme in the Kunar Province that most farmers do not have ropes to tie their animals and many children do not have shoes. So, a non-profit called the "Spirit of America" is raising money.

"Americans back home have taken it and have set aside $10,000," said Velte. "We have 500 pairs of crocs coming in the next week or two."

The Cal Guard ADT is also helping with irrigation projects in villages so remote they can only be quickly accessed by helicopter.

"As a result of this mission, a village of 100 people has water for themselves, their animals and their crops," Velte said. "It marked a milestone as our first official completed project."

The Cal Guard ADT is also providing technical expertise in leadership skills. They are pushing the local government to get involved at the lowest levels so people there will have confidence their government will help them.

"None of that will be able to be implemented unless the people believe in their district governments and the provincial governments and overall government," Hanson said.

Meanwhile, back home, Hanson's family from Salinas is moving ahead with their lives. Annette Hanson is providing emotional support to some of the wives of the ADT while their husbands are in Afghanistan. 22-year-old Keely is a college senior studying overseas in Cuba for one quarter. 19-year-old Travis is in his first year in college studying to be a geologist.

Travis and a friend were recently hiking near UC Irvine when they made the sad discovery of a body. He received some long-distance counseling from his dad from Afghanistan. Dad cannot be home right now to comfort and nurture his own family, but, he and his team are helping Afghan farmers improve the future for their families.

"It's been an exceptional door opener. Every village we've been into, they know who the ADT is and when we return, or when our counterparts return, they know we are there to do good things for them," Hanson said.

If you are able to help the California National Guard ADT with the shoe drive for children in the Kunar Province, you can make donations through the Spirit of America website. The guard soldiers enjoy getting items from home they cannot buy in Afghanistan. You can find items on their wish list on their team's website


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