A former 4-H’er found out the lessons he learned in his 4-H club 50 years ago in Bossier Parish, La., came in handy halfway around the world in helping a war-torn nation.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Lane Killen, who’s now at Fort Polk in Vernon Parish, La., used his knowledge of raising sheep and leadership in his job as an agricultural adviser on the Diyala Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq from May 10, 2007, to March 16, 2008. Killen served with the U.S. Department of Defense in support of the U.S. Department of State.
He was one of 100 employees in President George Bush’s New Way Forward 2007, whose mission was to restore and rebuild a market-driven economy for Diyala, called “The Green Province, Orchard of Iraq.”
Killen, who received a dairy science degree from LSU in 1971 and was named Outstanding Young Farmer for Bossier Parish in 1979, helped develop the first provincial agricultural strategy for fighting counterinsurgency.
He served as a specialist to assist in developing policies to expedite government investment in the agricultural sector and induce private sector investment in agriculture.
He assisted the government in expanding a network of agricultural Extension service offices throughout the province and nation. He helped with new legislation aimed at providing financing to local farmers and sheiks for seed, fertilizer, equipment and irrigation canal dredging to jump-start the agricultural base of the economy.
“I thought I was going to be a county agent, but I ended up being a lobbyist to raise issues,” said Killen, who has more than 36 years of active and reserve military experience in highly technical medical, intelligence and security fields.
Killen spent about three days every two weeks in the embassy in Baghdad, just southwest of Diyala, arriving by helicopter. He dealt mostly with the governor and his staff, the director general of agriculture (equivalent to Louisiana’s agriculture commissioner), water resources staff, and various associations and councils.
He also visited grain silos, warehouses, veterinary supply companies and canning factories.
Before deploying, Killen contacted LSU and Texas A&M University for agricultural information and consulted with his lifelong friend Allen Nipper, director of the LSU AgCenter’s North Central Region. Both served on the Louisiana 4-H Executive Committee as youth.
Having been a farm boy growing up in the Red River Valley further enabled him to talk agriculture in Iraq.
“All of those little surprising things I did raising sheep for 4-H projects had an application. I milked cows and so was able to talk dairy farming all the time. There is a large rapport among all guys who have done farming,” he said.
Killen said Iraqi people, from older sheiks and governmental officials to youngsters, know how important agriculture is to their country and want to learn more about farming in the United States.
He said it is important to the Iraqis that the American plans mesh with theirs. “Nobody had ever asked what they thought.”
Perhaps as many as 95 percent of the Iraqi people in Diyala Province are involved in agriculture, Killen said.
Killen communicated progress by e-mail to a group back home, including Nipper. He has 15,300 pictures from the 10-month experience, he said.
“For the first five months I was there, there were no cell phones. Terrorists blew up the towers,” Killen said. “We were lucky we had good computer communications. We used a lot of VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) equipment.”
His office had one translator and could have used more.
Killen traveled in armored vehicles with soldiers carrying rifles and machine guns. A trim 190 pounds, Killen weighed nearly 350 pounds with body armor, helmet, bags and weapons.
Asked if he ever felt unsafe, he replied, “All the time. You just get used to it.”
He pushed videoconferencing meetings because of the danger on the roads.
Killen said Iraq is hot and dusty. “The maximum temperature was about 130 degrees at our FOB (Forward Operating Base), the same latitude as Atlanta. There was often low visibility because of dust. I got there in May. We seldom saw a cloud until late fall. It actually freezes some there in the winter.”
With only 4 inches of rain a year, irrigation is necessary to grow crops. Drainage and electricity are chronic problems.
“Electrical shortages plague Iraq,” Killen said. “Because of shortage, coalition forces run their own generators, so as not to take power from the grid.”
During the summer and fall of 2007, the southern half of the province was extremely dry, and the reconstruction team undertook major initiatives to increase supply with the rehabilitation of the Buhriz pumping station and efforts to improve maintenance on the pumps on the Tigris River, coupled with attempts to get electricity to power the supplemental pumps.
Pesticide supplies, on the other hand, were adequate. Killen said farmers are concerned about are the dubas bug and the white fly in their date palm and citrus grove complex.
Iraqis have an affinity for dates, and date production assumes significance beyond its agricultural contribution, Killen said. The National Date Palm Project aims at revitalizing the national date grove and recapturing some of Iraq’s share of the world market.
“Date palm cultivation is considered to have originated in southern Iraq some 4,000 years ago,” Killen said. “Date trees appear on many Middle Eastern coins and currency and are deeply imbedded in the culture.”
Other top crops in Diyala include wheat, pomegranate, grapes, rice and corn, barley and honey.
Beekeeping also assumes significance beyond its agricultural contribution because of tradition and historical medicinal uses, Killen said. There is a longstanding and ongoing differentiation between honey produced around citrus trees, citrus honey and other types of honey.
Killen said one type of honey is almost black and priced nearly four times that of traditional honey.
Besides creating an agricultural assessment for Diyala, Killen developed a strategic communications plan, including an agricultural radio show, which is anticipated to air four days per week, 30 minutes each program, including weather and markets.
A similar show was on TV and radio before 2003, he said.