MADISON, Wis. --
The 82nd Agribusiness Development Team - the Wisconsin National Guard's first unit formed to help improve the agricultural techniques of Afghan farmers - was honored by Gov. Scott Walker and senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders during a Feb. 4 sendoff ceremony at Hartford Union High School in Hartford, Wis.
"Since 1848 in our state, there has been no mission of this kind," said Col. Darrel Feucht, commander of the 82nd ADT. "This day is absolutely historic. You have the privilege to assemble such talents and create a conduit to a country called Afghanistan."
Feucht said the mission gives the 82nd ADT the opportunity to connect Afghan farmers with Wisconsin resources such as the University of Wisconsin college of agriculture and life sciences, the UW agriculture research station, the Babcock Institute for International Studies, the Future Farmers of America and other agricultural cooperative organizations.
"This mission has far-reaching effects and is absolutely extraordinary," Feucht said.
The 82nd ADT will also be known as Joint Task Force Badger, and Feucht asked the families and friends at the sendoff ceremony to help choose the unit's nickname - "Dirty Badgers" handily beat out "Honey Badgers."
Feucht said the unit's mission statement is to guide, to grow and to guard - to guide the Afghan farmers and each other, to grow crops and in experience, and to guard those that need protection, the original role of the National Guard.
Hartford Mayor Joe Dauterman expressed his confidence the 82nd ADT would live out that mission statement.
"By this mission, and through your efforts, others will learn how to capitalize the opportunity to fend for themselves," Dautermann said. "The people of Afghanistan and the world will be reminded, by your example, that America not only knows how to meet the challenges of war, but that we also have a heart and a will and a desire to pick up the pieces and put things back together."
Dautermann's sentiments echoed a statement made earlier by Maj. Doug Hedman, Wisconsin National Guard state chaplain.
"Gracious God, your prophet spoke so many years ago of your vision when he said this: 'They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,'" Hedman said. "As we send out our agribusiness development team, let them be instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let them sow love."
State Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper polled the 82nd ADT on prior deployments and years of service - some had more than 20 years in military service - and noted the unit's wealth of experience.
"What a perfect mission for that level of experience," Stopper said. "You get to go forth and represent the great state of Wisconsin and do things that no one has ever done before from this state. You're the perfect match for it."
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said that the National Guard is uniquely suited to accomplish the agribusiness development team mission.
"That is because when we deploy, we not only take our military skill sets with us, but we take our civilian skill sets with us," Anderson said. "In this case, with the 82nd ADT, that is exactly what many of you are doing for the primary mission of helping the Afghan people learn to grow other crops to support themselves."
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, said that since 1839 Wisconsin has sent its finest men and women to do the nation's bidding, even for unconventional missions such as agribusiness development teams.
"It's what you would expect of the Wisconsin National Guard," Dunbar said. "It's hard to take on this kind of a mission, to learn something new and try to put something together that hasn't been done all too often before, and go off to a foreign land and try to engage some of these 'soft skills' that will hopefully help develop a friendly country over time."
Gov. Scott Walker and Dunbar thanked the families and friends at the ceremony for their support of the Guard members.
"When I look at the flag of Wisconsin, I'm given a couple of reminders very specific to your mission," he said to the 82nd ADT. "One of the key elements on the shield of our crest is a plow. We do agriculture better than just about anybody in the world. We know that if you're successful in training them to grow things that are useful and productive, instead of things like opium poppy, they won't be funding the terrorist activity and groups like the Taliban and others, and instead they'll be growing the freedom we hold so dear in the United States.
"On top of the flag is a badger," he continued. "We hope that it's a reminder that back home there are 5.6 million badgers in this state who think about you, pray about you and support you. And we'll look forward to welcome you home soon with wide, open arms and a thank you for a mission well done."
Feucht said his team contained the best the Wisconsin National Guard had to offer from its Army brigades and Air Guard wings.
"Now you take the best true Citizen Soldiers and what this great state has to offer - that is, its best resource - agriculture," Feucht continued. "You add that and you add a positive attitude, and you add passion and you have the team that's sitting before you today."
Staff Sgt. George Nagel, a member of the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee, will deploy with the 82nd ADT as a pest control specialist. This will be his second deployment; his first was to Iraq in 2008.
"I'm looking forward to this [deployment] as an opportunity to help out a country that needs our help," Nagel said. "As opposed to going over there and trying to change their minds about things, we're going over there to help them better what they are already establishing."
Nagel said that serving in a unit that was mostly Soldiers has been a learning experience.
"I've had a lot of fun and met a lot of great people," he said. "Boy, does the Army like [physical training]."
Sgt. Jerry Van Hull - a member of the 32nd Brigade's Company A, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry - will serve as a member of the 82nd ADT's security force.
"I was looking to go to Afghanistan," Van Hull said. "It's a different culture, different environment than Iraq. It should be interesting - it should be a challenge."
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