On this Veterans Day: How one Missouri boy grew up to serve his country and the farmers of Afghanistan, too.
Here around Langdon, like most rural places, we’re pretty proud of our kids. That’s one of the best things about paying taxes in a small community; we all feel as though we invested in our young people, even when they belong to somebody else.
While on the school board, I got to know a guy named Garrett Smith, elected at the same time I was. We served together at Rock Port RII for 9 years. One of Garrett’s sons was just a little squirt when I first remember seeing him in a hallway of our elementary school nearly 20 years ago. I became aware of someone tapping on my leg and glanced down to see a three-foot tall towheaded boy looking up owlishly through big eye glasses. Once he had my attention Kalen had just one word to say: “Hi!”
Right along with everyone else in town, I watched Kalen grow up as a model student and high school athlete. He’s the kind of kid you wish your sons would pal around with and your daughter would date. It didn’t surprise me when he was accepted at West Point. And it didn’t surprise me either when I heard he was studying engineering, because engineers build good things that make life better. That matches all I know about Kalen.
Now that he’s graduated from the Point and serves with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, building things isn’t enough for Kalen. He wants to plant things too — things that will feed people and make their lives better. Kalen is giving out donated seeds to promote crop diversity in a place so destitute it would make a flatland farmer like me feel totally useless.
As always, Kalen seems right at home doing good things, like asking family and friends to send garden seeds to Afghanistan. Reprinted below is Kalen’s most recent letter home, where he describes the region of Afghanistan he’s in, and what he’s doing.
You might say he’s sowing seeds of peace.
“To all those who sent seeds as a gesture of good will, thank you. I just wanted to let you all know where your contribution went and how you have helped. I hope to have the chance to sit down with you individually when I return so I can thank you in person.
“Faryab Province in Afghanistan has a largely agrarian population, with almost 60% of the population relying on what they can grow to feed their families, and wheat as the main cash crop that accounts for the vast majority of all that is grown in the province – largely because of a lack of crop diversity practices. This year was a bumper crop for the farmers in the province, but with few ways to export, the surplus has driven the price down considerably.
“Faryab is one of the only provinces where the country’s Ring Road – the only paved road – remains unfinished, and as such the farmers have no routes to the west for export into Turkmenistan and Iran. While some people travel for hours on the Ring Road headed north to Mesar-e-Sharif, they’re often taxed along the way and arrive only to find that the market prices make turning a profit very difficult.
“Your contributions of seed packets make a difference – both symbolically and in a very real way. Each package of seeds represents the need for self-sufficiency in a country trying to stand on its own two feet, as well as the need to consider diversifying their crops. And in some cases you have literally provided these people with a way to feed their families, if only for a short time. For people who live day to day, unsure of how they will provide for themselves, that kind of stability is very much appreciated. Additionally you have provided me with an open door to speak with an Afghan who may be deciding who he’s going to trust – the coalition forces or the insurgency. I greatly appreciate this opportunity and I thank you again for your contribution.
Captain Kalen Smith’s unit has just moved from Faryab Province to another region of Afghanistan, where he serves with the U.S. Army.