“Assalamu alaikum,” or “peace be upon you," will soon be a common greeting for a team of Georgia National Guardsmen as they learn to speak Pashto.

The group will deploy to Afghanistan this May on a special mission to revitalize the war-torn country’s agriculture industry. University of Georgia agricultural experts helped arm them with the knowledge to do it.

In February, 21 members of the National Guard's 201st Agribusiness Development Team visited the UGA campus in Athens to get hands-on training from specialists with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The guardsmen learned about irrigation, crop production, pest management, soils assessment, livestock management and food storage.

"This not a typical training session for us, but when the Georgia National Guard asked for help, we wanted to do all we could,” said Steve Brown, assistant dean for UGA Cooperative Extension. “While our scientists may not be experts in Afghan agriculture, the basics are the same worldwide."

Essential Skills

Experts also taught the guardsmen how to hold and care for chickens, care for a beehive, prune fruit trees and milk cows. These are essential skills for a country whose agriculture industry is decades behind those of developed countries.

“Milk is a big carrier of diseases like salmonella, tuberculosis, listeria and E. coli,” said Steve Nickerson, UGA dairy scientist. “We are teaching them how to collect the milk in sanitary ways to limit the transmission of disease. They use open systems in Afghanistan to collect milk; if you handle it wrong, you could be killing kids.”