Q How did this program come about?
A The program is still ongoing, and we must recognize that there are 100+ people involved in this and I was just the lead vet. The idea was the brainchild of a U.S. Army soldier, a reservist from the Midwest.
Q Did you have any prior familiarity with livestock agriculture in this part of the world?
A I've had experience in that region and in Iraq and a bit in Pakistan. So none of it was brand new to me.
Q How much of an issue was security?
A It was huge. We couldn't go out into the region without significant security forces and force protection because there are obviously a lot of folks who would not like to see this program succeed. And that's why we've had a bit of delay in telling this story. We had to make sure that what we were doing there wasn't going to get anyone into any trouble.
These folks are just tough as nails and they are very gracious, helpful and good people. There is a sub-element of them that are causing a problem, but the basic Afghan person, especially their farmers, just want to be left alone to raise their animals and families.
Q Despite the fact they lag in technology, how would you characterize Afghan animal production?
A The Afghan vets and livestock people put a high value on livestock. It's a life-and-death situation for them, and they have tremendous respect for their animals.
The animals are raised for subsistence, but they are also raised because there's a tremendous market in the big cities.
I've worked and traveled in dozens of countries, and there are two things that are pretty common in rural cultures: that is a respect for animals and a love of their children. If you want to earn their trust and do positive things, teach them a way to take care of their animals or their children, and you'll make friends.
Q The program must have been quite gratifying for you.
A In the lives of some of these families it is important, and hundreds of families have been helped by this program. I won't elevate it to saying that it was critical, but it was pretty important.
Not only was it difficult to reach the areas, but there was a huge language barrier. Everything had to be translated into Pashtun, the language that predominates on the Pakistan/Afghan border. So what would normally be a 35- to 40-minute lecture took two hours. And these folks sat through three days of that.
We didn't schedule bathroom breaks or anything that we would normally associate with a seminar in the U.S. These were marathon sessions and, when we were done, most of the attendees just rolled out their mattress and slept on the seminar floor.