Unable to quash the Taliban with bullets alone, U.S. military brass figured they’d try a different approach, one that would bolster the agricultural roots of the desperately poor in southern Afghanistan.

In 2010, the Agriculture Development Team One – a joint Air Force/National Guard counterinsurgency effort – was surrounded by a chaotic ruckus kicked up by thousands and thousands of sheep and goats. Word had spread like wildfire through the mountainous desolation: the Americans would vaccinate and treat herds. The hand-to-mouth populace latched onto the golden opportunity and the team worked for days on the animals.

In the year-plus the team spent in Afghanistan’s dangerous Zabul Province, it was a scene that would repeat itself many times.

The team, largely composed of mid-South men, arrived in Afghanistan in February 2010. A troop surge was ongoing and it was early March before they reached their base, which proved to be nothing except a bare patch of ground a bit over 7,000 ft. in elevation. Tents were pitched, generators brought in, everything built from scratch.

Some 50 miles from the notorious Pakistan border, the base was in a historical area. About a mile away sat a castle built for Alexander the Great – certainly nice, but small consolation weighed against the near-constant threat of violence.

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