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National Guard Unit Back From Afghanistan, Getting Back To Life At Home

The Missouri Guard's Agricultural Development Team was feted in Creve Coeur and St. Charles over the weekend.

Monday morning will be Steve Bereitschaft's first day back on the job as a project engineer at IDX, a firm headquartered in Earth City that manufactures store fixtures. Bereitschaft, a Specialist in the Missouri Army National Guard from Arnold, is just a few weeks removed from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

His unit, part of the Guard's Agricultural Development team, was charged with helping win over Afghan hearts and minds by helping people on the ground there adapt to 21st century agricultural practices. It meant teaching them ways to steer farmers toward a model that, among other things, doesn't include the poppy trade, which has had links to funding terrorism in the region.

His team leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Phillip M. Lederle, of Hartsburg, who is a farmer and a Columbia (MO) Police Officer in civilian life, said the unit was known to the locals there as "Farmers With Guns."

Several iterations of the ADT have been in Afghanistan since 2008 and 11 members of this current detatchment, which arrived in March, are still there now as part of a smaller U.S. footprint.

Lederle said one measure of the unit's success is the belief that they're no longer needed in the region because agricultural leaders now have the tools and resources they need to improve the lives of their people.

Members of the unit, which also includes airmen from the Air National Guard, were at Monsanto Friday to meet with company officials and representatives from Operation Homefront, and thank them for their support of the unit, which intensified after the unit's base in Jalalabad came under attack on April 15.

"You're sitting there one day and you get wounded and you lose everything you have, and then within ten days, packages just start rolling in, from Monsanto the biggest one and other smaller organizations," said Joseph Schicker, who was hit by a grenade in the attack and was later awarded a Purple Heart among other commendations.

Of that support, Schicker, a Sgt. First Class who now works for the National Guard, said, "I get chills thinking about it."

Lederle said the support for the soldiers was important in recovering some of the basic necessities, but that Monsanto and the other organizations also reached out to the unit's families. To this day, he said the bravery shown by his men that day serves as a lasting memory.

"April 15 will no longer be considered 'Tax Day' for me," Lederle, who earned a Combat Action Badge and an Army Commendation Medal with Valor, said.

For Schicker, who said his recovery continues here at home with treatment, the legacy of their time in Afghanistan will be starting to plant the seeds of change.

"If you get that 3 percent, five percent of the people to get the message that things can change, that will be the lasting effect that eventually that five percent will turn into 15 percent will turn into 25 percent and then you'll have momentum growing," Schicker said.

In the St. Louis area, members of the ADT hail from Arnold, Florissant, Hazelwood, O'Fallon, St. Charles, St. Peters, Wentzville and St. Louis.

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