News 12 at 6 o'clock / Saturday, April 21, 2012
FORT GORDON, Ga. -- "We have a heart, flowers, and me and my dad," said Emma Simpson of Grayson, Ga., of the poster she'd drawn up for her returning dad.
She and her mother Julie waited patiently on the bleachers in a Fort Gordon gym Saturday morning. They were waiting for the arrival of two busloads of soldiers who've just completed a unique mission.
The men and women of the 201st Agri-Business Development Team returned to Fort Gordon. Emma's dad Master Sgt. Dale Simpson is one of them.
We first met Simpson before his deployment last May.
"We're ready to lend a weapon if we have to, and then we have a shovel there to reach out our hand in friendship," he said then, summing up the unique mission. They brought the fundamentals of agriculture to the struggling Afghan people.
"After about 30-plus years of war and devastation to their country, they've lost several generations of farming knowledge," Simpson said. "We showed them a different way, and they were able to accept that and take it and make it their own, and they have no need for the Taliban or any of their policies."
About 80 percent of Afghanistan's economy is agriculture. The men and women of the 201st won the hearts and minds of entire villages by sharing farming tips. They shared skills like building root cellars, canning and jarring food and cultivating poultry. Ultimately, they planted the seeds of sustainability.
"I told my team in the beginning, I said if we come away from this deployment, and we don't have a lot of good, new stories, something's wrong," said Commander of ADT-1, Colonel Bill Williams III.
Williams commanded 50 Georgia Guard members. He says his soldiers received a rare thing from the Afghan people -- their trust.
"They were able to open up with us and trust us to be able to help give them an alternative, and majority of them were extremely happy that we were there. I'd say 90 percent of them," he said.
But the danger was always lurking. They completed 192 missions outside the wire.
That's why it means so much for the families to be together again. But now, Simpson knows that's something he has in common with many Afghans, too.
"They're just simple people who want to farm and enjoy life and their families," he said.
Those are all things made easier by the sweat and blood of these soldiers.
One crop they do have a problem with over there is poppy, which is used to make heroin. Afghans cultivate it because it grows well and is very profitable. Our soldiers were able to show them some good alternatives to poppy.
Williams says after their work, two Afghan villages started friendly communications. Another developed a chamber of commerce for its farmers and businesses. They're both two huge accomplishments in the war-torn country.