Two Jackson Guardsmen awarded Bronze Stars
Sunday, November 11, 2012
After spending eight months in Afghanistan, two Missouri National Guard soldiers from Jackson were welcomed home last week and presented Bronze Stars.
Capt. Steven Toft and Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Allred were among nine members of the Agribusiness Development Team VI who returned to Missouri after serving in Afghanistan since March.
"I really can't explain it," Allred said about coming home. "It's such a good feeling."
In his first few days home, Toft said he's been enjoying listening to his daughter practice piano and watching wrestling with his son.
"It's great just being here at the house," he said.
Toft and Allred also received Army Commendation Medals as did two other Southeast Missouri soldiers; Lt. Col. Frank Rodman of Jackson and Sgt. Christopher Burr of Sedgewickville, Mo.
The men assisted in the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan by working with farmers in the Nangarhar province, known as the country's breadbasket region.
"Our job was to enhance the government's ability to manage production of all types of crops, livestock and irrigation issues," Toft said.
While team members conducted security patrols and combated improvised explosive devices, they also helped work cattle, plant orchards and showed farmers how to change oil in their tractors, according to a Missouri National Guard news release.
"We didn't have a lot of money to work with so our job was to monitor and coach and keep going what was already in place," Allred said. They worked quite a bit with a research center at a nearby university.
"We taught them about the value chain, from the farmer growing it all the way to the consumer. They don't have any concept of that. They grow what they need to as a family."
The men worked to implement more modern farming practices in an effort to help the nation produce enough food to feed its people.
Nangarhar fields are small, so many farmers broadcast their seeds across the field rather than planting them in rows. Most share farm machinery, said Allred, who grew up on a farm near East Prairie, Mo.
Less than a month after arriving in Afghanistan, their Forward Operating Base Finley-Shields was attacked. There were no fatalities or life-threatening injuries. Allred received a Combat Action Badge after the attack.
Since the crew boarded a plane in Kuwait to come home, Allred said he has been humbled by the welcome and kindness he has received.
"People have bought our meals and just walked up to us in the airports to shake our hands and tell us thank you," he said. "It just feels good to be a soldier."
Allred, who owns a home in Jackson, is stationed at Camp Robinson near Little Rock, Ark., where he works with the National Guard. He is back in Southeast Missouri for a few days to spend time with family in East Prairie.
Toft, also a full-time Guardsman, works out of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., during the week. He spends weekends in Jackson with his family.
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