Two Jackson men, National Guard soldiers, were honored recently with Bronze Stars and Army Commendation Medals for their work in Afghanistan.
Their role wasn't to fight the enemy, but to help locals learn to grow food.
Imagine the scenario. You're half a world away in unfamiliar terrain. You're dealing with language barriers and cultural barriers, trying to help people understand more efficient ways to farm their land. And imagine you're doing so knowing at any moment you might be attacked, or that the next step you take or mile you drive could set off an roadside bomb.
Capt. Steven Toft and Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Allred did just that.
They worked with farmers in Nangarhar province, the country's breadbasket region. They conducted security patrols, helped farmers change oil in their tractors and taught them how to plant in rows. Most local farmers grow only what is needed for their families rather than trying to make the most of the land and sell their harvests to others.
Less than a month after arriving in Afghanistan, Forward Operating Base Finley-Shields was attacked. No one died or suffered serious injuries, but that doesn't diminish the courage it took these men to help the locals.
Since being home, the soldiers say they have been greeted warmly.
"People have bought our meals and just walked up to us in the airports to shake our hands and tell us thank you," Allred said. "It just feels good to be a soldier."
We salute these men and the rest of the military who risk so much on our behalf. Thank you for all you do.