KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Leaders of the Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agribusiness Development Team decided to put a canal-cleaning project in the provincial capital of Asadabad on hold after a foot patrol along the canal showed the project to be unnecessary.
Army Capt. Pat Birgy is the ADT’s finance officer and manages the Commander’s Emergency Response Program for the ADT. He explained why the ADT conducted the foot patrol along the Asadabad canal.
“This was presented as a time-sensitive, urgent need by certain members of the [Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock),” he said. “However, we still felt we should go out and assess the condition of the canal and talk to the villagers along the canal to make sure the project made sense prior to funding it.”
Birgy and more than a dozen other members of the ADT, including the ADT’s hydrologist, Army Master Sgt. Steve Holding patrolled on either side of the canal for several kilometers March 22.
During the patrol, ADT members met and talked with dozens of the Afghans who live alongside the canal.
One of the Afghans with whom Holding spoke with was Hayatullah, who lives alongside the canal.
Haytullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, is also a member of the Asadabad Community Development Council.
“This canal has been cleaned,” Hayatullah said. “The people who live by the canal have already cleaned it, as we do every year.”
In fact, Holding, Birgy and the other ADT members heard much the same thing from each Afghan they talked to as they patrolled down the canal.
“This experience provides further validation of the old intelligence saying, ‘Trust, but verify,’” said Birgy, “With every project, regardless of cost, we have to maintain a level of professional skepticism.”
“Billions of dollars have been spent on efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, so one small canal project may not seem like much,” Birgy said. “But fiscal responsibility starts at the lowest possible level, and we feel like every penny of the taxpayer’s dollar should be properly spent here.”
In the meantime, the ADT will turn its attention to why members of the provincial DAIL sought funding for the canal-cleaning project to begin with, according to Army Col. Craig Bargfrede, ADT commander.
“This is an excellent mentorship opportunity for the [DAIL] director,” Bargfrede said. “It will give him a chance to identify and fix a process within his organization that obviously didn’t work properly.”