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First the fighters, then the farmers: California National Guard at work in Afghanistan

July 11, 2010 | 10:57 am


As it nears the end of its deployment to Afghanistan, the California National Guard continues to try to win hearts and minds: one cow, goat and chicken at a time.

In its latest mission, the agricultural development team of the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division is trying to help villagers in the Marawara District in the rugged Kunar province of eastern Afghanistan.

 Just weeks earlier the area was controlled by the Taliban. After an assault by 700 Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces, the Taliban were driven out. Within days, the California National Guard troops from the Los Alamitos-based division swooped into the village of Daridam to meet with elders.

After years of Taliban rule, and being deprived of outside assistance, the villagers' crops were wilting and the livestock suffering from malnutrition and parasites, according to guard officials.

From the shura with elders came a plan to fix a broken water pipe, repair the irrigation system, and provide animal-feed, supplements, anti-parasite medication, shovels and pickaxes.

"The supplies we delivered will help them recover more quickly," said Sgt. Jason Stevens, who is a horticulturist at the Virginia estate of Thomas Jefferson when not serving with the guard.

Along with helping the cows and goats, there are plans to help villagers start a poultry business.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Sgt. Jason Stevens inspecting the soil of eastern Afghanistan. Credit: Department of Defense.