California soldiers help farmers in Afghanistan

February 11, 2010 7:14:27 PM PST
Last fall, a team of California National Guard soldiers was sent to Afghanistan -- not to fight in the war, but to help Afghan farmers. ABC7 recently checked in on them.

"We've asked these people what they wanted and some of the key things they are having problems with are mold in their crops, getting water to their crops and of course their animals," First Sgt. John Hanson of the California National Guard's40th Infantry Division Agribusiness Development Team said.

Hanson is in Kunar Province in Afghanistan with more than 60 soldiers on a mission to help Afghan farmers. Part of that mission includes inoculating the animals against anthrax and rabies and other diseases.

"The last one, we had over 500 cattle, sheep and goats that were looked at and it was very, very productive," Hanson said. "The people as you can tell here, having animals is very key to their existence, so any care we provide to them is paramount."

"I think it helps develop the relationship, they see we're here to help them and it facilitates the relationship building process," U.S. Army Sgt. Scott Flynn said.

The provincial governor of Kunar Province agrees, the work by the Agribusiness Development Team is helping.

"Livestock for these people is cash, money, because they have no business; they are farmers, this is the first time for the people are very happy to benefit from this knowledge and experience," Gov. Wahidi said.

The scenes in the Kunar Province may look peaceful, but hanson says the team faces danger every day.

"Every mission we plan is extensive for our security and we've come prepared for that and we've had some encounters already; no one has been hurt," Hanson said.

This mission is very different than the one Hanson served in Iraq, back in 2004.

"It was kind of like the wild, wild west; my mission there was a patrol mission and a security mission," he said.

Hanson says the troop surge ordered by President Barack Obama will make a big difference for the Agribusiness Development Team and for farmers.

"It doesn't do very good for the people if we go out and show them how to grow a crop to make it better if they can't drive it down to the local market without fear," Hanson said.

ABC7 met Hanson and his family in San Francisco in late 2009, just before he shipped out to Afghanistan for a year's tour of duty. He works for the city of Carmel's building department in civilian life. The family is from Salinas.

"There are times when it's just really lonely, you know, and I really, really miss him, especially when something goes wrong that doesn't get fixed, you know, OK, husband appreciation day; so I have had to pull in my resources and make do the best I can," Hanson's wife Annette said.

Hanson's son Travis is in his first year of college and does not have dad around to encourage him.

"It's challenging, it's a whole new experience to be out on my own and go to college and have a job," Travis said. "It's hard, but rewarding to know he's there and he's doing something good."

Hanson's daughter Keely is in her last year of college and has learned to appreciate what her dad and the Agribusiness Development Team are doing in Afghanistan.

"It's a different type of military mission and not a lot of people are aware, these are local men with jobs, full time jobs and they're leaving their families to go and do something, you know, going across the world to help others," she said.

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