This afternoon in Washington, Secretary Vilsack hosted a great reception and ceremony for USDA employees returning from year-long tours of duty on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is an honor for me to recognize these brave and devoted employees for their tremendous service to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the important role they played in furthering political and social stability throughout the world by building a foundation on which the economies of these countries will prosper,” said Vilsack. “With President Obama’s new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, USDA’s role in providing agricultural knowledge and expertise has become increasingly important. Whether in forestry, soil and water conservation, food safety, agricultural extension, or veterinary services, I hope the example provided by these brave men and women will inspire others to volunteer.”
Just before the ceremony, Bruce Dubee and Steve Berk, two advisors who were deployed in 2008 to Afghanistan shared some of their experience.
Dubee, a Natural Resources Conservation Service employee based in the Washington, D.C. headquarters office, was deployed as a soil specialist in Kunar province near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
“You have to figure [the work] out,” he said of his experience. (Both men were the first USDA staff working on their PRT, a group a civilian advisors escorted by U.S. and coalition military forces). “You look behind you, and there’s nobody, it’s you.”
Berk, a Farm Service Agency District Director in Florida before being deployed to Afghanistan’s Paktika province, worked largely in evaluation and project training — although both men agree their roles were very broad.
“We had to become politicians as well,” Berk said.
At times, both agreed the work could be “painfully slow,” and instability in the country could sometimes pose issues. “There’s nothing easy about working in Afghanistan,” said Dubee. Berk readily agreed.
But both noted the stark lack of development in the country, and how agricultural capacity building within Afghanistan will play a vital role in improving ordinary peoples’ quality of life.
“You come back and you really understand how good you have it,” Dubee said.
Both have considered returning to Afghanistan for second tours of duty, and USDA currently plans to increase the number of PRT advisors on the ground over the coming months.
Want to learn more? Along with the ceremony, USDA released a web site and video highlighting the efforts of advisors serving in Afghanistan.