Eleven Wisconsin National Guard soldiers left Madison Thursday headed for Afghanistan. Their mission is agricultural rather than military.
The send-off ceremony for the 97th Agribusiness Development Team at Truax Field in Madison began appropriately with an invocation from the old testament prophet Isaiah read by Guard chaplain Douglas Hedman, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks , neither shall they learn war anymore."
The 11 team members won't actually be plowing or pruning but they will be working closely with Afghan Ag officials in Kunar province on a variety of projects. Craig Giese raised on a farm near Greham, Wisconsin is the team commander, "Right now the initiatives are artificial insemination, training up professional there to take on that role, saffron production for hopefully to displace poppy growth, and reforestation (sic) with a native pine, the Chilgoza Pine."
This is the second year in a row Wisconsin National Guard soldiers have carried out agricultural development projects in Afghanistan. Wisconsin National Guard Adjutant General Donald Dunbar says nation building activities in Afghanistan like this one are likely to continue for another few years, "It's not just about getting the bad guys it's about trying to build relationships. So I think we'll do this at least through 2014. I wouldn't be surprised to see this kind of mission be continued or some variant of it, but a lot of that is going to depend on what the Afghanistan nation wants us to do."
Thirty-two Wisconsin soldiers have been killed in combat in Afghanistan since the war began in late 2001.