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Published February 26, 2010, 12:00 AM

Two men with Jackson ties to serve in National Guard Agribusiness Team

JACKSON — A pair of men with Jackson ties and backgrounds in agriculture will work together this summer — in Afghanistan.

By: Ryan McGaughey, Worthington Daily Globe

JACKSON — A pair of men with Jackson ties and backgrounds in agriculture will work together this summer — in Afghanistan.

Col. Craig Bargfrede, a Jackson native who now resides in Ankeny, Iowa, is the commander who will lead the Iowa National Guard Agribusiness Development Team based at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa. Don Kuehl, who grew up in the northwest Iowa community of Mapleton, has lived in Jackson for seven years and is in the Air National Guard.

“Col. Bargfrede opened this up to members of the 185th Air Refueling Wing, out of Sioux City, Iowa, of the Iowa Air National Guard,” explained Kuehl Wednesday at Jackson’s United Prairie Insurance Agency, where he is employed as office manager. “From that request it sounded very interesting to me, and I completed (an application) not thinking I would be in any way, shape, or form selected. To my amazement, about 30 days later, I saw my name on the list.”

“This team has between 60 and 70 personnel, and this is truly a unique thing in that we have both Army and Air coming together,” Bargfrede added. “I hand-picked this crew and was looking for folks with experience in agronomy and a social science background,” he said.

“We also have a veterinarian, a couple of engineers, soil scientists, pest control, one person that has a degree in forest management, and we have a couple of folks that are in production management right now. So we have a pretty broad base of experience.”

The mission

The 734th Agribusiness Development Team will provide expertise, advice and training in agriculture-related specialties and businesses to Afghan universities, provincial-level ministries, local farmers and agribusinesses.

“We’re assigned to one of the provinces over there, and we’ll be on the eastern border of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Bargfrede said.

“We’ll be working on watershed management, irrigation and vet caps (livestock assessment and vaccinations) and working with them on the crops side raising wheat and corn, but they’re looking to expand into vineyards and fruits and vegetables,” Bargfrede added. “The biggest problem is on the water side. It’s not an issue of having enough water, but they don’t have a way of harnessing it. … The feedback we’ve had is that they’re very good at growing things, but they don’t have the ability to store them, and things spoil before they have the ability to sell them or utilize them.”

Kuehl is eager to travel to Afghanistan for what will be a 12-month deployment, but is well aware of the country’s long-term agricultural challenges.

“Over there, we’re going to have to take a step back in time and slow down,” Kuehl explained. “We’ll be taking smaller steps and probably realizing smaller solutions, but hopefully, over time these things will help improve their conditions and help stabilize the country. There are one-year, five-year and 10-year plans of where they want to be. There are actually nine teams that are over there on the ground, and each team operates in a different province. Each team has a slightly different plan based on the conditions in the province.”

Bargfrede noted that the ADT concept has been applied successfully in Central America and South America over the last 20 years. The National Guard Bureau established the ADT program for Afghanistan in 2007; the Iowa team replaces one from California that has been in the same locale for the past several months.

As part of preparation for the team’s deployment, agriculture and life sciences faculty and Extension specialists at Iowa State University will lead training and provide agricultural expertise where needed. Additional training will come from an unlikely source within the state.

“There’s also very little mechanization over in the agriculture in Afghanistan; everything is done with wooden plows and animals yet,” Kuehl added. “That’s one reason we’ll be going to Amish communities in southeast Iowa. … We will be stepping back in time.”

The 734th ADT will mobilize near the end of June and travel first to Vienna, Austria, before arriving in Afghanistan toward the end of August. They will live on a forward operating base while there.

Getting here from there

Kuehl’s current rank is chief master sergeant, and he is currently command chief master sergeant with the 185th Air Refueling Wing. He will observe 34 years of military service next month.

“I was born and raised on a farm; it was a crops-livestock farming operation,” Kuehl recalled. “I was in FFA while in high school, and out of high school I went to work for the local co-op. … Later, I went to technical school for truck and diesel mechanics (at Northwest Iowa Community College, Sheldon), and then, when I graduated, I went back to work for the co-op.”

After his 1971 enlistment, Kuehl served for a few years before taking a five-year hiatus. He returned to service in 1981 or 1982, he said.

Now, several years later, he will be part of a new adventure, thanks in part to the father of his commanding officer.

“Actually, before Col. Bargfrede asked if any members of the 185th were interested in coming on board, Col. Bargfrede’s father (Dave) had been in my office talking about it,” Kuehl said. “I was aware of what was happening, and when I saw it in a drill bulletin one Saturday I thought, ‘Hey, I better check this out.’”

Bargfrede, for his part, first enlisted inside the old Jackson Armory in 1968.

“The 27th of March, I’ll have 30 years of service,” he said.

A 1981 graduate of Jackson High School, Bargfrede would earn a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education at South Dakota State University before working in ag business for 14 years in Rock Rapids, Iowa. He is now on a leave of absence from his job with the State of Iowa; he is employed in the office of emergency management.

Bargfrede pointed out that while the 734th ADT will have its own team of security forces with them while in Afghanistan, it will something else that’s critical — a wealth of knowledge in several agriculture areas, as well as long-tenured personnel.

“Knowing the type of people we’re dealing with, we made a conscious effort for experience,” he said.

“It’s been very interesting coming from the Air Force side and interacting with Army and going to the Army training,” Kuehl added. “I’m just looking forward to the trip as a whole.”