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'Task Force Rugged' making a difference in Helmand province

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The 14th Engineer Battalion, also known as Task Force Rugged, has been in Afghanistan for over two months now and is already making a difference in the lives of Afghans. Task Force Rugged not only provides freedom of movement for coalition forces on major highways, it also supports additional efforts aimed at improving the lives of Afghan citizens. For the past two weeks, Rugged route clearance platoons have been integral to the success of Operation Wheat Seed, an initiative aimed at distributing wheat seed and fertilizer to area farmers.

Operation Wheat Seed is a joint effort between the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. TF Rugged’s route clearance platoons have been assisting the Helmand PRT with ensuring safe passage for civilian trucks delivering the seed and fertilizer to farmers in Northern Helmand province. The 571st Sapper and 610th Engineer Support Companies from JBLM, the 576th Clearance Company from Fort Carson, and the 95th Clearance Company from Schofield Barracks, all companies attached to Task Force Rugged, have assisted in providing route clearance support to this important endeavor. The intent of the operation is to encourage wheat growth in lieu of poppy.

Poppy plants serve many purposes in Afghan culture, not least of which is the production of heroin. For the past four years, the Helmand PRT has conducted wheat seed and fertilizer distribution operations in Helmand province from its home base in Lashkar Gah aimed mostly at areas along the Helmand River Valley. This year, distribution has expanded to the far Northern corners of Helmand province, and the distribution mission is executed jointly by Afghan Local Police, Afghan National Security Forces, and platoons from Task Force Rugged.

By providing an alternative for farmers to plant during the fall season, the Helmand PRT and Helmand’s provincial government hope to encourage the growth of a viable food source and provide a legitimate source of income for Afghan farmers.

The impact on the illicit drug trade reaches far beyond the Helmand River Valley. Heroin produced from Afghanistan poppy is often found in Europe and the United States. By impacting the drug trade at the source, Operation Wheat Seed intends to not only improve the lives of Afghan civilians by providing a viable alternative to poppy but curtail the flow of illegal drugs out of the country.

Lt. Col. John Buck is the Task Force Rugged commander and is on his third tour to Afghanistan. “Afghanistan is the source of almost all of the world’s opium, and whatever support we can provide to stemming the flow of illicit drugs is not only good for Afghanistan, it is good for Americans and Europeans, as well,” stated Buck.

Task Force Rugged and its soldiers will continue to conduct its combat mission of providing route clearance support to coalition forces throughout southwestern and western Afghanistan. But missions such as Operation Wheat Seed are a unique opportunity for Rugged soldiers to contribute directly to the economy and people of Afghanistan.

“Task Force Rugged is in a unique position to provide route clearance support to this important mission. The Afghan people will live here long after we are gone, and we will continue to look for opportunities to do our part to make Afghanistan a better place,” said Buck. By delivering wheat, Ruggeds are doing their part and making a difference.

Article by Chief Petty Officer Jared Young, 30th Naval Construction Regiment