JEFFERSON CITY, Mo -- Missouri's fifth Agribusiness Development Team, which included members of the 131st Bomb Wing, was welcomed home by Gov. Jay Nixon, the Missouri National Guard and a host of family and friends at the Ike Skelton Training Site in Jefferson City on Wednesday.
"It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you home to Missouri," said Nixon. "Missouri takes great pride in all her sons and daughters who wear the uniform of our armed forces, and who are always vigilant in protecting America. That pride holds especially true for the agribusiness development teams of the Missouri National Guard."
The team, composed of Missouri Air and Army National Guardsmen, deployed on May 3, 2011, and marked the completion of their mission by returning home to Missouri.
"It is the Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen from our state who pioneered the efforts to help farmers and villagers in Afghanistan achieve a greater degree of self-reliance in growing crops, raising animals, and having a source of clean water," Nixon said.
This team has been built upon the successes of the previous ADTs and the Missouri focus has always been to conduct stability operations in the volatile region of eastern Afghanistan by developing the nation's primary source of employment, and economic stability - agriculture.
"Agriculture and Missouri have been closely tied together for 200 years. The crops and livestock we grow and raise here feed, fuel and clothe the world," Nixon said. "So it's only natural that Missouri would become a leader in partnering with the people of Afghanistan so they can learn skills and use technology to increase the production of crops and livestock."
Since the first team sent to Afghanistan in 2007, more than a dozen states have seen the success of the program and started their own teams. Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Oklahoma, California, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and California now have Agribusiness Development Teams in Afghanistan to provide help to the Afghan people.
The team's unique agribusiness mission requires the application of civilian acquired skill sets to guarantee mission accomplishment.
Some of the team's projects included the rehabilitation of village irrigation canal systems; quality control for larger area watershed restoration; regeneration and/or promotion of micro-level agribusiness like cotton production, fish production, sugar cane processing, poultry production, veterinary services, seed oil processing and peanut processing; establishment of saffron research test plots at area agriculture high schools; and project management for construction of an Agriculture High School, irrigation canal retaining wall/intake, construction (work in progress) of an Agriculture Information Center to house the Agriculture Extension Agent's (AEA) office, rehabilitation of an agriculture department learning center for the Nangarhar University Ag Department.
"The mission was very successful and we were able to complete several projects," said Staff Sgt. Chris Hobbs, 131st Bomb Wing Security Forces, "It was great to see the day in and day out phases. And the prosperity the completed projects brought to the Afghan people."
A highlighted accomplishment for the team was helping the director of agriculture, irrigation and livestock and his finance director create the first annual budget using the budge pilot program. The budget plan reflects the director's objectives listed in his strategic plan, and includes operation and maintenance costs needed to maintain facilities once they are completed. This allowed the director to sustain his facilities long term.
"It's good to be back in Missouri," said Master Sgt. Joe Holloway, 131st Bomb Wing Maintenance Group, "Our team provided valuable assistance to the Afghan people. It's an experience I'll never forget, but there's no place like home."
During the ceremony, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Don Thompson, the oldest member of the team, returned the United States flag and the youngest member of the team, Senior Airman Micah Roe, 131st Bomb Wing Maintenance Group, returned the Missouri State flag safely to those that entrusted them with it.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brent Beckley, the team's commander, told his team four things before they were dismissed - "congratulations, welcome home, be safe and thank you."
A sixth team, commanded by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Andre Edison, deployed on March 9 to continue the fifth team's project and to begin their own.
"I want to give you a special thanks for the strong battle hand-off you provided ADT VI," Nixon told the troops. "As you know, shortly after you departed Forward Operating Base Finley-Shields, the base came under attack."
There were no fatalities or life threatening injuries reported after the attack.
"Your ADT VI reacted quickly, and despite sustaining serious injuries, assisted in maintaining the defense of the base," Nixon said. "Thank you for taking the time in the transition between units to ensure they had the knowledge and resources necessary in the situation. We pray for the continued safety of the Soldiers and Airmen of ADT VI, as they carry on their mission."