An assistant state conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently received a top honor for his service overseas in Afghanistan, where he served as an agricultural adviser for two different tours.
Darren Richardson, who works for NRCS in Lubbock County, Texas, was among 72 people recognized by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service in late May. Richardson received the Tom Stefani Distinguished International Service Award for brave accomplishments in the face of danger.
Richardson served as a senior adviser to the U.S. Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan. Richardson served two tours, from 2009 to 2010 as a technical advisor for the military unit, and in 2013 as a senior agricultural advisor in western Afghanistan, supervising USDA field advisers in the western region.
His service as an adviser was short-lived because of the tragic bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Herat, claiming the lives of eight Afghan soldiers and consulate security forces. Distinguishing himself as a first responder, Richardson assisted the consulate medical staff with treating and saving two wounded security guards, even during a gunfight with terrorists taking place outside of the consulate.
“It is always an honor to be recognized for service and achievements,” Richardson said. “But the Tom Stefani award is especially meaningful to me because in addition to recognizing my service in Afghanistan, it honors the sacrifice of Stefani who lost his life in Afghanistan while serving as a USDA agricultural advisor.”
As an agricultural adviser, Richardson worked closely with the provincial representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, building great rapports and regularly organizing their regional training sessions which brought Ministry of Agriculture officials together from four western provinces to coordinate natural resource planning, share expertise and bring in international agricultural experts for technical training of their staff.
He also coordinated and managed the work of the USDA-funded Afghan Agricultural Extension Program, or AAEP to bring agriculture extension specialists from U.S. land grant universities to Afghanistan for the training of Ministry of Agriculture extension staffs.
Richardson also advised international partners on their development efforts, worked as a certified grants officer representative, advising on and overseeing numerous small grants – in addition to many other activities that helped to revitalize the agricultural sectors in Afghanistan. The grants funded a variety of projects, such as implementing technical trainings for farmers, women’s groups and governmental employees.
Richardson began his career in 1987 as a soil conservationist with the Soil Conservation Service in Texas. He also served as a district conservationist, and resource team leader throughout the High Plains and West Texas regions.
“I appreciate the opportunity provided to me by FAS and NRCS to serve in Afghanistan,” Richardson said. “I think it is an outstanding example of interagency cooperation to address a unique situation where USDA expertise was desperately needed in the overall U.S. effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
NRCS staff members have embedded in the U.S. military since 2003 and worked on conservation projects with local farmers in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the nation’s civilian effort in reconstruction. Learn more about ag advisers from NRCS.