Farmers Headed To Combat Zone

Armed with 4 tons of winter wheat and farming tools, members of the Kansas National Guard are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. The Agribusiness Development team will help local farmers with their crops and livestock. Major Blaine Clowser, a member of the "combat farmer" team, talks about his pending trip.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

As President Obama made clear yesterday, the Pentagon is shifting its war focus to Afghanistan. The President plans to send 17,000 more troops into that country in the next couple of months, and we have one of them on the phone now, Blaine Clowser. He's part of a special team of the Kansas National Guard. You might call them the farm team. Major Clowser, what are you going to be doing over there?

Major BLAINE CLOWSER (Kansas National Guard): Well, Robert, what the mission is looking like right now is we are going to basically assist - not force, but assist - local Afghan farmers. And the big thing is is hopefully, we can assist them in developing an economic base that will create a little greater stability within that region.

SMITH: Well, you have a background in agriculture. What do you grow?

BOWMAN: Well, I am a farmer, part time or full time. My job, I run a cow herd, about 150-head brood cow herd, and that's for the University of Nebraska, Vet Science Department. But on the side, I run my own cows with my wife and daughters. We've got a purebred Angus and shorthorn, a small setup that keeps us busy as far as our family times go.

SMITH: Now, in Afghanistan, some farmers grow poppies for heroin. It's a big cash crop there. Is part of your job to convince them that they can grow wheat and be economically successful?

Major CLOWSER: Yes, yes, and you hit it on the head. That's exactly what we're trying to do, exactly.

SMITH: Well, have you thought to yourself how you're going to make a convincing argument? If they can make so much money the other way, how are you going to get them to grow wheat?

Major CLOWSER: Well, you hit something there that I've been pondering since I volunteered for this mission. You know, I've been in that country. I already have a tour over there, and I'm going back. Different mission the last time but got to meet and work closely with a lot of Afghans at that point.

People, in my opinion, they have that inner knowledge, you know, that there are things that are appropriate and inappropriate. And the bottom line is is if we can make it profitable enough, I do feel strongly that we can influence a shift there in their mentality. It needs to be significant enough that they can meet their basic needs, you know, a house, a home, an education for their children, you know, and a survivable and a viable income just like anywhere in the world.

SMITH: So, Major Clowser, who's going to take care of your farm when you're deployed?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Major CLOWSER: I've got a tremendous partner in my marriage here. My wife and, actually, my two daughters are very competent and capable, and you know, if it weren't for them, I sure couldn't offer up and volunteer for things like this. They will handle it. I have a very good friend and some neighbors that also render aid and assistance as needed.

SMITH: So, how do you feel about your trip to Afghanistan? I mean, it's not the safest place to be a farmer, and I don't know if you're going to be carrying a weapon during all of this, but what are you expecting?

Major CLOWSER: Well, I guess what I will say is yes, we will be armed, but we're not a hunter-killer-type operation. We're not an offensive deal. We are there to assist and try to aid the farmers. How I look at this, I'm actually - I don't know if the word excited is - it's not probably the correct word, but I am looking forward to it. I like challenges, and to me, if we really are serious about trying to win this campaign and that, then this is a step in the right direction, in my opinion.

SMITH: Major Blaine Clowser is part of the Kansas National Guard's Agribusiness Development Team. They'll depart for the farm fields of Afghanistan on March 11. Thanks a lot.

Major CLOWSER: Thank you, Robert.

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