LINCOLN — Master Sgt. William Cary volunteered to put his ag know-how to use in Afghanistan.
But his willingness to go doesn't make leaving any easier.
“I think we can handle our job there, but leaving the family is going to be hard,” said Cary, who has a wife, Jill, and four children, including a week-old daughter, Anistyn.
Cary's family and more than 150 other supporters gathered Tuesday to say goodbye to the 11 soldiers headed for an 11-month deployment in Gardez, Afghanistan.
The Nebraska Army National Guard ag specialists will replace a dozen soldiers who are currently there, helping local farmers and the Afghan government improve the country's agricultural infrastructure.
The departing soldiers make up the Guard's Agribusiness Development Team No. 3. On Friday, 46 of the 58 members of Team No. 2 were welcomed home in Lincoln.
The ag development teams work with the Afghan equivalent of extension agents to modernize production methods and coordinate efforts between local and higher-ranking officials.
The soldiers will use their ag backgrounds and additional Guard training to teach Afghans about wheat seed selection, forestry, corn planting, irrigation, crop rotation and more.
Cary, 39, grew up helping out on a small livestock operation in Pawnee City, Neb., and studied water science for two years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Sgt. 1st Class John Ruden was raised on a livestock and crop farm near Remsen, Iowa. He hauled grain, drove tractors and did a variety of daily chores.
Ruden, like Cary, is ready to use his knowledge to help Afghan farmers modernize their practices.
He has been deployed before — to Kosovo and Iraq with the Iowa National Guard. He is well-versed in prepping his household and his wife, Valerie, for his absence. But it's still hard to prepare for the emotional strain, Valerie Ruden said.
As Tuesday's ceremony wound to a close — after State Sen. Bill Avery, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Gov. Dave Heineman told the soldiers they took pride in and appreciated their service — the tears came.
Then came the hugs and the goodbyes.
The soldiers were leaving early Wednesday for a month of training in Camp Atterbury, Ind.
Then they're off to Afghanistan to, as the team's leader, Lt. Col. William Prusia, put it, “sow the seeds of peace and prosperity.”
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