Special Assignment: Growing Hope

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, May 5, 2011

ATHENS, Ga--- It may be the most unusual mission ever for the Georgia Army National Guard. A 58 member team recently left Augusta for Afghanistan. Along with fighting, Augusta's 201st Regional Support Group will spend the next year teaching agriculture in a war torn Country and growing hope.

The rolling hills of north Georgia are about as far away as you can get from Afghanistan in just about every way you can imagine. But this University of Georgia dairy farm is where a unique military mission begins.

Dr. Steve Brown is with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Services.

"Well, this is our teaching dairy just off the campus here in Athens," Dr Brown explains as he walks along a long row of cows.

His job is to turn soldiers into farmers. And UGA had some homework to do.

"Anything from wheat to dairy cows to goats- to camels. We couldn't help 'em much with camels," he says.

No camels but plenty of cows, goats, chickens, even bees. Some of the soldiers seem right at home on a farm. Others, maybe not so much. But they all got plenty of hands on training.

(Rogers) "Tell me about the moment these cows encountered the soldiers."
"Well, they kind of open their eyes a little bit too," Brown says with a chuckle. "They're not scared of people. You can walk right up to these animals. But they're not used to being milked by hand, I mean this is all machine milking here."

That may be the case in the state-of-the art dairy outside Athens, but not in Afghanistan. The milking is all done by hand there and it's valued in that culture. With no refrigeration, handling it the right way is critical.

"Oh, its huge. There are so many diseases that can be transmitted in milk. We take it for granted here- because our milk is very safe," Brown says.

In some cases the soldiers will have to overcome centuries of tradition. Farmers in Afghanistan tend to grow grapes in mounds on the ground. They could produce a lot more- with less disease- by using a simple trellis system. The whole idea is to keep it simple and give the Afghans information they can use to make their lives better.

But remember, its also a war zone. And the citizen soldiers from Georgia are putting their lives on the line to make life better for people in a hostile land. People they've never even met.

Master Sergeant Dale Simpson knows all about the danger.

"So we're ready to lend a weapon if we have to and we have that shovel there to reach out our hand in friendship, Simpson says. "But we must always remember we are soldiers first and we'll take care of the mission however we need to."

In part two of this News 12 Special Assignment you can read more about the soldiers themselves. The ones heading off to a war zone. The ones growing hope.

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