Talking about Afghanistan on TV

I’m excited to make an appearance on Almanac tonight. Almanac is ‘it’ when it comes to public affairs coverage in Minnesota. Having the producers invite me to chat about this up coming trip is going to offer outstanding exposure. The program has a very loyal Friday night viewership and has been on Twin Cities Public Television for over 25 years.  However, unlike a blog where I can ramble on with little concern for time or space I’m going to receive somewhere between three and four minutes of live, statewide television to describe the details of this military embed and mission.

I’ve been living with the preparation for this trip to Afghanistan with the Minnesota National Guard since October and I’ve done a mountain of planning, I’ll try to recap things with this blog post.  To dig deeper you can click on the myriad of links I’m including, the links will take you back to the original blog I wrote about the given topic.

Heikkila in armor

My colleagues and I both enjoyed donning the armor in the office. It's heavy, the vest weighs 30 pounds.

Six months ago I started looking for flights to Afghanistan. The easiest way to get there from Minneapolis is to go through Dubai. The first problem I ran into was finding out the U.A.E. doesn’t make it easy for travelers to bring body armor or a Kevlar helmet through their airports. After a few weeks of exploring flights through Germany, Turkey and the Far East I ended up sending the helmet and vest on to Afghanistan ahead of me. A friendly face will meet me on the civilian side of the Kandahar Airport and they’ll have my gear in tow.

After I made all of the necessary travel arrangements I spent a lot of time thinking about and researching how and what to pack. I’ve decided not the check a bag; I’ll only bring what I can fit into a carry-on backpack. Camera gear, mics, computer, sleeping bag and clothes all in one bag. I’ll be packing light.

Too heavy

I learned from my packing mistakes. In 2009 I went to Iraq and brought WAY too much stuff.

Before I land in Kandahar I will stop in Atlanta and Dubai. In Dubai I will have a lengthy layover and will be checking into the airport hotel. Dubai International Airport is set up with a hotel on gate-side of the airport; no need to go through customs, after just a quick jaunt through the terminal I’ll have a room, a bed and the promise of horizontal sleep.

The sleep will be key. I want to be able to hit the ground running after I meet up with the Minnesota National Guard in Kandahar. The Minnesota National Guard has sent 22 soldiers from Minnesota who will be helping Afghans in Zabul Province achieve a more-stable future through agriculture. The Soldiers are from 19 communities all across the state and many have civilian backgrounds associated with farming and agricultural marketing. Together with 36 soldiers from the Mississippi National Guard, who are providing the security detail for the mission, they make up the ZADT, or Zabul Agribusiness Development Team.

While I’m in Zabul Province I’ll be introducing viewers to the men and women of the ZADT and the mission they’re completing. These are citizen soldiers who have left their homes and families, they are about 7,000 miles from their loved ones and are working with people in an unheard of cities like Tarnak Wal Jalak, Shah Joy and Qalat. They are helping people who are in the most dire of needs.


Sheep being vaccinated in Zabul Province (Courtesy DVIDS - PO2 Jon Rasmussen)

The ZADT is setting up test plot fields to help introduce Afghans to new growing techniques, they’re also holding veterinary seminars in which herders can bring livestock in to be vaccinated. Couple this with courses dealing with agricultural cooperatives and the construction of a slaughter house for livestock and poultry and the farmers of Zabul Province will be receiving assistance and information that will help increase their stability.  In time the benefit of the ZADT’s work may help Afghanistan’s agribusiness scene re-emerge.

This won’t be a war story, it will be a story of hope that is being planned and written in a war zone.  I’ll be bringing the stories of Zabul Province and the ZADT home; it’s a big honor and I’m looking forward to the challenge of letting you all see what I see.

As I’m in Afghanistan I plan on updating this blog as often as technology permits; to learn what I’m learning while I’m learning it check back, subscribe, or follow me on Twitter.

Thanks for reading…more later.