After three years and a 14,000-mile round trip, six Oklahoma Army National Guard soldiers have received master’s degrees from Oklahoma State University.
Sgt. 1st Class Liz Setser, of Edmond, Lt. Col. Jackie Sanders, Maj. Bernard Dindy, Capt. Chris Thomas, Staff Sgt. Timothy Vermillion and Sgt. Ryan Hubbard, members of the 1-45th Agri-business Development Team, began their studies in 2009 while at OSU preparing for deployment to Afghanistan in 2010.
Agriculture accounts for 45 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, and more than 80 percent of the population is engaged in farming and agriculture, according to a congressional resolution honoring the team.
The team was created to bring together agriculture subject matter experts who would train and mentor farmers, Sanders said. Members coordinated agricultural development projects in the eastern Afghanistan provinces of Paktya and Paktika, Sanders said.
Members were selected by the commander, Col. Mike Chase, due to their education and experience in agriculture. There were veterinarians, beekeepers, poultry experts, certified engineers, Future Farmers of America instructors and marketing and finance experts.
Projects formed the basis for the degrees. The master of international agriculture requires 32 credit hours; the team’s deployment counted for 17 of those. After returning from Afghanistan they had only 15 credits to complete.
Setser said before deployment the soldiers took preparatory classes at OSU. Overseas, she taught Afghanistan women and youth from about age 8-17 in villages about raising poultry.
When she returned, Setser got involved with a class that took her to the west Africa nation Sierra Leone for 10 days in March 2010. They assisted a Christian-supported orphanage with agricultural matters.
Reintegration was an issue for her, Setser said. Working in Africa was a more relaxed, less dangerous environment than Afghanistan, she said.
“Their desire to learn everything was so great,” she said of the African youth. “They were soaking it up and wanted to take part in everything we were doing.”
Setser is thinking about her post-military plans, which will kick in about seven years from now. She wants to get a job that will take her to developing countries. She wants to work with women and youth.
Setser said her supervisor would ask soldiers if they affected change in the lives of others.
“I would definitely like to think that I made a change in their lives,” she said.
After coming home, she kept in close contact with people she met in Afghanistan and Africa. Contractors in Afghanistan who didn’t have electricity went to a place with a computer and found her on Facebook. An African woman who also didn’t have electricity sends her a text message about once a month.
Setser said something that helped her connect with people in Afghanistan and Africa is her American Indian tribal heritage.
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