ATHENS, Ga. - An Oglethorpe County couple will spend the next year far from their farm outside Lexington, across the globe in Afghanistan.
David and Donna Mull aren't fighting the Taliban, but their work could leave a lasting impact on the Afghan people.
They hope to help farmers there in much the same way Cooperative Extension agents work with farmers here in the United States, like teaching agricultural techniques or helping to install irrigation systems.
Both work in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office in Athens and volunteered for a 13-month tour with the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service to help build up the impoverished country's agricultural economy.
Now David, 60, and Donna, 50, are embedded with a Kentucky National Guard unit called an Agricultural Development Team, based at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan's Parwan province.
About every other day, they go out into the countryside with National Guard soldiers to meet with the people who live in areas around the base, often farmers working land in the Shomali Plain.
The area was once called the breadbasket of Afghanistan, said Matt Herrick, a spokesman for the Foreign Agricultural Service.
Decades of war and years of drought have hurt farms in the area, however.
"It's almost like stepping back in time 1,000 years," David Mull said.
Most people are poor, and few have things Americans take for granted, like electricity and clean water, he said.
Afghanistan is a high-tech battlefield, a place where the United States uses remote-controlled flying drones to assassinate enemy leaders.
But the Mulls' down-to-earth aid could help Afghans generate much needed cash.
"We're actually trying to the educate them with things on the agricultural side of life," Donna Mull said.
Donna Mull works with women. She's teaching beekeeping to families interested in producing honey and is showing women how to raise mushrooms.
David's been helping to install irrigation systems in water-poor areas, along with greenhouses, a chicken hatchery and a cool-storage building where crops like carrots can be kept.
Earlier this week, he talked with the Parwan Director of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock - sort of the equivalent of a state Secretary of Agriculture - about importing canola seed from Hart County.
"It might be a real good winter cash crop over here," he said.
The Mulls also will help train new members of their own team in a few weeks when their Kentucky National Guard unit is replaced by another unit.
Most of the fighting in Afghanistan is far from Bagram, but the couple gets reminders of the ongoing war.
"We've been hit by incoming maybe every two weeks," said David Mull, a Vietnam War veteran.
They also got training in how to handle themselves in an attack before they headed off to Afghanistan about a month ago, he said.
"It's kind of like a tornado in Georgia. If you're in the wrong place in the wrong time, it's not good for you," he said.
Mull, a 23-year U.S. Army veteran, has talked about going to Afghanistan for years, his wife said.
"He was military, and he wanted to go back and do something good for another country," she said. "This opportunity came up, and we discussed it."
Donna Mull didn't require a lot of convincing, she said.
"It's a year taken away from our lives, but it's rewarding. It's just trying to help other people," she said.
"If you go out there and you see these children's faces that are hungry and need something to eat ...," David Mull said from Bagram before his cell phone battery fizzled.
He finished his thought in an e-mail later: "What Donna and I both hope to accomplish in our year here is to not only serve our country and support the overall mission, but to also serve the people and nation of Afghanistan by making life a little more tolerable for them," he wrote. "If we can improve their agriculture procedures in any way, we want to accomplish that."