“Afghanistan may be a high-tech battlefield,” said Col. Bill Williams, who commands Augusta’s 201st Regional Support Group, “but its agricultural practices are like those of America’s during the 1900s, or in some cases the 1800s. And the income of its people, especially the farmers, is in terrible shape.”

Thirty years of war and prolonged drought have set Afghan farmers way back, says Williams, who will lead the first of three Agribusiness Development Teams to Afghanistan this spring.

“Our job will be to help the Afghans change their practices through education, mentorship and ‘easy-to-train, easy-to-sustain’ crop, livestock, water and land-management projects that fit their culture and environment,” Williams said.

Many of the citizen-soldiers on the Guard’s team already have agriculture degrees or hands-on experience. Sgt. Carmen Benson, an agriculture teacher from South Effingham Middle School in Guyton, Ga., will be the team’s soils specialist.

“Anything related to soil, soil conservation or anything of that sort, the team will bring to me,” Benson said. “But I believe the leadership is also going to rely on my agricultural education and experience for teaching the Afghan children basic agriculture principles in irrigation and horticulture, for example.”

Benson, a CAES graduate, says she is thrilled about finally putting her passion for agriculture and her education to work for the military.

“I love what I do, especially what I do with my students here at home,” Benson said. “Helping Afghanistan children and adults alike become better farmers, better stewards of the their land, is — without a doubt — absolutely perfect for me.”

This mission is “right up the Guard’s alley,” Williams said. “After all, our organizations symbol [the Minuteman] is an armed farmer standing next to his plow.”

Georgia is one of five states preparing units with agriculture experience to aid Afghanistan. Georgia National Guard made a three-year commitment to return to Afghanistan for agriculture training.