BB-AFGHAN WOMEN (copy)

Afghan women arrive at Omaha's Eppley Airfield under the sponsorship of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Saleemah, a teacher from Kabul and wearing a scarf, is hugged by Masuma Basheer, an employee of America West Airlines here in Omaha and a formerly from Afghanistan.

The Nebraska National Guard gave a well-deserved salute last weekend to about 350 members of the 155th Air Refueling Wing who completed six-month deployments to the Middle East and Afghanistan. It was the largest Nebraska Air Guard deployment in more than 10 years. The Wing’s KC-135 tankers operated out of Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan. It’s one of a number of important contributions that a wide range of Nebraskans and Iowans have made in Afghanistan over the years:

» Guard and Reserve personnel. These all-volunteer soldiers and airmen from the Midlands have shown outstanding professionalism. “Their work is dangerous,” Major Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska’s adjutant general, has observed, “but you can have great confidence in knowing we have some of the best-trained, best-equipped soldiers and airmen in the world, and we do everything we can to ensure we bring everyone home.”

» Agricultural specialists. National Guard units from Nebraska and Iowa have included ag-support specialists, including Extension agents from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Lt. Col. Lynn Heng commanded a 58-member Nebraska Army National Guard unit — Agribusiness Development Team No. 2 — that spent nine months in Afghanistan during 2011-12. Afghanistan’s agricultural sector had been dramatically weakened over the years.“When you have 30 years of war and lose a couple of generations of farming knowledge, this is what happens,” Heng said after returning from the deployment.

» University of Nebraska at Omaha. UNO deserves praise for its many years of work in strengthening Afghan society. UNO’s Center for Afghanistan Studies has devoted impressive energy to boosting Afghanistan’s educational system by training teachers and providing supplies. It’s been encouraging to see female Afghan teachers visit Omaha and receive warm welcomes as part of that work. A $2.2 million federal grant enabled UNO to establish bachelor’s degree programs in communications studies and provide education to teachers at Kabul University, Afghanistan’s oldest and largest university, and Balkh University. Another federal grant, totaling $1.3 million, funded UNO’s student-faculty exchange programs for the journalism school at Kabul University.

Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain, given the continuing threat from the Taliban amid negotiations among U.S., Afghan and Taliban representatives. But work by so many Nebraskans and Iowans to aid that country is worthy of recognition and a salute.

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