MADISON, Wisc. - A unique Wisconsin National Guard unit, authorized in July and just weeks away from its first training event, is putting the finishing touches on a training plan that will ultimately lead to its upcoming mission in Afghanistan.
Col. Darrell Feucht, of Columbus, Wis., will command a unit of approximately 60 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen headed to northeastern Afghanistan sometime in 2012 as part of an agribusiness development team – a National Guard initiative that applies the rich farming experience of many Guard members in a way that will allow a developing democracy a safer and more productive way of feeding its people.
Owing to the kinetic operations – also known as a combat environment – still present in Afghanistan, approximately half of the team consists of security personnel gleaned from the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
The team's technical members include a high school biology teacher, large animal veterinarians, agronomists and forestry scientists.
The team also includes two members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard and five females.
Feucht said there was no shortage of volunteers for this mission, and every position will be filled.
Families have been notified of their servicemember's upcoming training commitment and deployment.
"We are bringing together some really good skill sets to accomplish the mission," Feucht said.
The agricultural experts will focus on animal husbandry, water and soil conservation, horticulture, irrigation, storage, and distribution and agribusiness education. The team will also assess local farming practices and environments to determine the best strategies to assist Afghan farmers.
Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, said the National Guard is uniquely suited for this type of mission.
"The skills and expertise we bring from our civilian careers demonstrates our versatility and capability for assignments like this," Dunbar said.
The team's training for the upcoming year will be detailed down to the hour, and the unit will conduct its first drill in February. Eighty percent of the training in 2011 will meet pre-mobilization requirements dictated by 1st Army.
"But being a [non-traditional] unit, we kind of make up our collective training as we go along due to our unique mission," Feucht explained.
For example, Feucht said he is hoping to collaborate with the University of Wisconsin's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for what he described as a three-week "Extreme Ag 101" this summer to ensure, among other things, that his technical team members are well-versed in Afghan vegetation.
That collaboration would continue to allow the deployed agribusiness development team to tap into the university's academic expertise here in Wisconsin – a practice the military refers to as "reach-back" resources.
Feucht intends to enlist Future Farmers of America chapters in Lodi and perhaps Hartford as "reach-back" resources as well. A presentation at Lodi High School earlier this month sparked great excitement, he said.
"They want to be involved in this mission somehow, some way," he said.
Feucht also said that the team will emphasize physical fitness training. The elevation and rugged terrain, much of it unsuitable for motor vehicles, challenges conventional notions of fitness.
"From what I've been hearing, you find that after carrying all that equipment, you're not in the shape you thought you were in," he said. "They will need to be in the best condition of their lives."
The agribusiness development team will support the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Afghanistan, Feucht said.
Conditions at that time will dictate if the Wisconsin ADT maintains current projects or takes on new projects.