University of Kentucky crop research scientist brings skills to National Guard mission

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Paul Evans, Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team 4 Public Affairs NCO

Click here for more photos on this story.

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Civilian Agricultural Specialist Beau Neal, a native of Versailles, Ky., tastes an onion grown by a local farmer in Afghanistan on February 20, 2012. Neal is a member of the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 4, whose mission is to help Afghan locals develop more effective farming and business practices by providing education and sustainable tools. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Paul Evans, Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team 4 Public Affairs NCO)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan — “I grew up on a farm. I always wanted to be outside,” reflected 26-year-old Beau Neal on his experience with agriculture during an interview in southern Afghanistan on March 7, 2012.

Neal, a civilian agricultural specialist from Versailles, Ky. with the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 4, said he started helping on the family farm around the age of eight and has loved farming ever since.

“Summer time, it’s daylight to dark for me, messing with the cows, baling hay, working in the tobacco field. From the time that I was able to work, I’ve been working hard,” he said.

Deployed to southern Afghanistan with a team of Soldiers, Airmen, and agricultural specialists on ADT 4, Neal finds himself in a slightly different role advising Afghan farmers as a civilian.

Civilian Agricultural Specialist Beau Neal (right), a native of Versailles, Ky., listens to Army National Guard Cpt. Brian Ink of Harrodsburg, Ky. on February 20, 2012 before going out on mission. The two are members of the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 4, whose mission to help Afghan locals develop more effective farming and business practices by providing education and sustainable tools. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Paul Evans, Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team 4 Public Affairs NCO)

“My job on the mission is to assist and advise all the members of the ADT in any problems we may face or any projects we might get going, as well as work in cooperation with some guys from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and U.S. Agency for International Development … to make the agricultural economy a little bit more stable,” he explained.

Back home Neal works as a crop development research scientist at the University of Kentucky.  That’s also where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and master’s degree in plant and soil science.

“My dream is to eventually just farm full-time, but as this point I’m happy with my job at UK because essentially I get to farm for them,” he said.

So how exactly did a young agricultural specialist like Beau Neal end up on a military mission in Afghanistan?

“Col. Barrier (the ADT 4 Commander) contacted me. He told me he’d been authorized to seek out civilians for this mission, and he said I was the first one he thought of,” Neal recalled. “He’s a pretty good friend of the family, I’ve got a background in agriculture, got an education in it, so he called me. After thinking about it three or four weeks, I decided to seriously consider it…and here I sit.”

Neal’s goals are on the mission are fairly simple.

“Hopefully, we can impact some lives and help some people,” he said. “I know, the old adage is if you help one person, you’ve done alright. But hopefully, we’ll help a lot more than one person. I’ll definitely gain a once in a lifetime experience out of this.”

Asked what’s motivated him on the mission so far, Neal offered a few things to consider.

Civilian Agricultural Specialist Beau Neal, a native of Versailles, Ky., reviews the landscape of a farm in Afghanistan on February 20, 2012. Neal is a member of the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 4, whose mission is to help Afghan locals develop more effective farming and business practices by providing education and sustainable tools. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Paul Evans, Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team 4 Public Affairs NCO)

“I think the biggest thing is I get to experience what our Soldiers experience on a regular basis, but without being one. Not many people get to be over here and see what the Soldiers go through and see how mentally and physically wearing it is on the body, and I’ve gotten to see that firsthand. It just heightens my respect for the American Soldier,” he said.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like missionary work and I feel like this door opened for that reason,” Neal added. “I feel like this is mission work in a sense, so it gave me an opportunity to sort of do that.”

 What has Neal enjoyed most about his trip to Afghanistan so far?

 “Definitely going out and seeing the countryside here. I think just seeing how much different it is here than it is at home… the culture, it’s a world of difference from what we have at home and it really makes you thankful for what you’ve got and realize we take a lot for granted,” he said.

 “I just felt like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to help some people,” Neal reflected. “To this point, I haven’t been let down. It’s definitely something I can take back home and tell a lot of people (about)… it has definitely opened my eyes to the world and opened my eyes to what the Soldiers over here are sacrificing, because I’m right here with them taking part in it. It’s made me thankful for being an American.”

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