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Posts tagged: State Department

A Symbol of Strength, Perseverance and Dignity Shared Between Friends

Imagine sitting at your desk one day and answering the ringing phone, only to hear the US State Department’s Office of Protocol on the other end.  That is precisely what happened to Michael Perry, Export Specialist for the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) when he was told President Obama was traveling to Israel in late March and wished to give a special gift to the Israeli people. Read more »

Highlighting Inclusion, Diversity and Human Rights at the Special Olympics World Winter Games

Cross posted from the White House blog:

During recent days we have had the honor as part of a U.S. Presidential Delegation to accompany more than 150 U.S. Special Olympians to the 2013 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. In addition to the Opening Ceremonies of the games on Tuesday, the Presidential Delegation had a unique chance to spend time with the athletes and view some of the events.

While we have made a special effort to cheer on the U.S. athletes on behalf of the President, the Special Olympics is about far more than winning – it’s about encouraging diversity, celebrating inclusion and recommitting to the human rights of persons with disabilities around the world.

People with disabilities come from all walks of life, genders, every social class, and all religious traditions. Most of us have a family member, friend or acquaintance with a disability. People with disabilities make tremendous contributions to our society, to our families, to our neighborhoods – adding to the diversity that makes America a unique and special place to call home. Read more »

Forest Service International Programs Leads Study Tour for Chileans

During an eight-day trip, Toby Bloom, Forest Service International Programs specialist, led four delegates from the Chilean Forest Commission to the Southwest Region to learn ways to involve indigenous groups in public use planning and environmental outreach.  The group visited the Jemez Pueblo Visitor Center, Zuni Pueblo, and several national forests and reserves with significance to Native American tribes. The visitors met with the Kaibab National Forest Cooperative Management team to discuss their roles in collaborating and communicating with the seven tribes bordering the forest.

Local and regional Forest Service staff shared with the Chileans the types of conflicts or concerns they deal with on a daily basis, such as how to manage sacred sites and cultural resources/plants within the forest, how to keep tribes informed about Forest Service activities, and how to solicit feedback on management activities including fuel reduction, concession infrastructure, hunting and other permits. Read more »

Chef Corps to Help Build Bridges through “Culinary Engagement”

“Food isn’t traditionally thought of as a diplomatic tool, but sharing a meal can help people transcend boundaries and build bridges in a way that nothing else can.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Some of the nation’s top chefs have signed on to help promote American food and culinary traditions around the world through the new American Chef Corps. The corps is part of the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative, launched earlier this month by the Department of State and the James Beard Foundation. USDA is delighted to support this initiative, which is an excellent complement to our ongoing work highlighting the quality, variety, safety and sustainability of U.S. food products to our customers around the world. Read more »

NRCS District Conservationist Does Double Duty as Major General in Iraq

Major General Eddy Spurgin conducts key leader engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq.

Major General Eddy Spurgin conducts key leader engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq.

When on duty, Major General Eddy M. Spurgin is the commanding general for the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, but when stateside, he serves as the district conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Big Spring, Texas. Read more »

Senior Advisor Inspects Agricultural Progress in Helmand’s Marjah District

By Edward Messmer (State Department) and Matt Herrick (USDA)

As a foreign service officer with USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, Quintin Gray has assessed challenging situations in some harsh places. But nothing like in Afghanistan.

“The soil is like a fine dust,” said Gray,  who recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan’s Marjah district in Helmand province. “But they have water. It’s just a matter of delivering it effectively.”

Gray is on loan from USDA to the State Department as a Senior Agricultural Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. He went to Marjah last week to inspect the progress being made in irrigation, alternative crops, and market development, as well as to gather information in advance of this fall’s important planting season. Gray met with the District Governor, who escorted him through an open-air market. Walking side by side in the new marketplace, Gray and the governor discussed market conditions with local farmers and produce merchants.  In January, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made a similar trip to Marjah to assess the efforts of Americans and Afghans to revitalize Afghanistan’s agricultural sector.

Since Secretary Vilsack’s visit, Gray learned how civilian-military coalition units in the region are planning to bring the badly deteriorated canal system – which is critical to the economic life of the district – back to its former efficiency.  One of the USDA agricultural experts working in Helmand, Wes Harris, explained that the civ-mil units plan to replace more than 400 sluice gates and flow control points that regulate the flow of Helmand River water through the extensive irrigation system, which will ensure that downstream communities have sufficient water for their cultivated areas.  The visit and various meetings with U.S. and Afghan officials on the ground provided Gray with a better understanding of the challenges facing the agricultural community as well as the potential that exists to build a prosperous economic base.

Since 2003, more than 100 USDA employees have deployed for service as agricultural experts in Afghanistan. Currently, 54 USDA employees like Wes Harris are fanned out across the country working as part of civilian-military units. These individuals come from backgrounds as soil and plant scientists, marketing specialists, veterinarians, water and rangeland specialists, foresters, and other specialties. As part of a unified U.S. government team which includes team members from the Department of Defense, the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other agencies, USDA is delivering high-impact assistance and bolstering Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, the traditional core of the Afghan economy. The Afghan-led agricultural assistance strategy focuses on increasing agriculture jobs and incomes by increasing agricultural productivity, regenerating agribusiness, and rehabilitating watersheds and improving irrigation infrastructure. It also aims to increase Afghans’ confidence in their government, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, by building their capacity to deliver services to farmers and herders.

District Governor Haji Zahir and Senior Agricultural Advisor Quintin Gray discuss issues as they walk through Loy Cherah bazaar.
District Governor Haji Zahir and Senior Agricultural Advisor Quintin Gray
discuss issues as they walk through Loy Cherah bazaar. 

Senior advisor Gray and State Department rep Ed Messmer listen to Marjah merchants describe market conditions.
Senior advisor Gray and State Department rep Ed Messmer listen to Marjah
merchants describe market conditions.