Female Soldier finds fulfillment in Afghanistan
Story by Staff Sgt. Paul Evans, KY ADT 4 Unit Public Affairs and Historian Representative
FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan— For some, life is all about helping others. Such is the case for 34-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Catherine Corson of Nicholasville, Ky. As a member of the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 4, she has made it her goal to help the people of southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province.
“When you look at the big picture of helping people, even at home I try to help people in the community, it’s just really what I felt like I was born to do,” Corson said.
Previously, Corson served as a part of Kentucky ADT 1 in eastern Afghanistan, returning after spending a short time at home between missions.
“On ADT 1 I was primarily the administrative NCO (noncommissioned officer). However, the Commander gave us the leeway to do projects as we saw fit,” she said. “In that, I was able to adopt a girls’ school and I did a really cool thing there. I asked for Christmas, for everybody to send backpacks stuffed with supplies.”
“Out of that, I felt like I wasn’t able to touch as many Afghan lives and make as big of a difference in the Afghan side as much as I did the Soldier side on ADT 1.”
“When the opportunity came up and I was asked to come and be a part of the team on ADT 4, I accepted with one stipulation…‘I want to be on the Ag Team.’ Overall, I just wanted to paint a bigger picture and be able to influence more with the projects that I’d seen that may have been viable, things that I saw that could have been different on ADT 1, and to carry over projects (from ADT 1).”
Corson wasn’t alone in returning to Afghanistan from ADT 1, however. Joining her are ADT 1 veterans Maj. Jim Rush of Alvaton, Ky., along with fellow Nicholasville residents Staff Sgt. Isaac Jones and Sgt. Tiffany Teegarden.
“Myself, Jones and Teegarden were all a trifecta, if you will. The only way you were going to get one is if you got the other two,” Corson explained. “We may not talk every day, but throughout the course of things, I know that I can always lean on either of them for anything.”
“Everything about this mission is completely different from ADT 1,” Corson said. “When you factor in two different areas, Eastern Afghanistan to Southern Afghanistan, the two don’t compare even in a side-by-side comparison.”
“Obviously, here they don’t have as fertile of a climate as the east,” she explained. “Here, it’s desert versus being a little more lush and green in the east. When you look at that and you also look at the kinetic activity, it plays a huge part in safety and the things that we’re able to do. I think here, there are probably a lot more opportunities, though.”
“As much I hate to hear ‘we’re not ADT 1 and we don’t do it that way,’ I thoroughly understand that firsthand…the dynamics don’t change. The people are still the same, the country is still war-torn, and the country is still experiencing war.”
“So, as a whole, the ADT theory doesn’t change. We’re still here to grow things, we’re still here to help fix crops that can’t thrive or that are disease-infected,” she said. “Even though the two missions are different, the two commands are different, and the two teams are different, the mission as a whole is still the same.”
Corson briefly explained some of the progress so far, using her main assigned district of Zharay as an example.
“I think there’s been quite a bit accomplished. As a whole, we came in and developed a mentorship program with the Extension Agent in Zharay. We’ve introduced training, we’ve helped him implement programs, and we’ve reached out through him to farmers, which in-turn builds him up.”
“Farmers tell other farmers, who tell other farmers. So I think that through that mentorship program, through projects…as a whole, the program is growing.”
“We were able to implement some really good programs just from the start. I can see a lot more good things coming, but I think it’s still going to take some time.”
“Because of where we’re at, the hazards, and then you have to consider the 82nd (Airborne Division) and the operations they have going on, it all kind of kind of impedes a little,” Corson said of the challenges involved in ADT 4’s mission. “As a whole, I kind of envisioned a program and the way I wanted to do things. When I got here, it was totally different.”
“The challenge for most people is the relationship of the Afghan person that you’re working with,” Corson explained. “They’re still people…they’ve still been told after 11 years that ‘this is the way we’re going to do things when we come here.’ That’s the number one thing that I hear (from Afghans) is that when we come here, we implement something, and then we’re gone.”
“Building that trust with our mentorship program, I think it’s not a setback, but it takes a lot of time. And we as Americans are dependent on time. Everything revolves around time.”
“In Afghanistan it’s different,” she added. “They live for the moment, they live to feed their family for the next meal, and Enshaala (if God wills) for tomorrow.”
Corson, a woman who has spent a lot of time learning about Afghanistan and its people, had good things to say about both.
“The beauty of Afghanistan as a whole amazes me. Even through a war-torn country, several wars, and destruction, it’s still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been,” she said. “If you can look past the rubble, you can really see beauty.”
“I think that if you friend an Afghan and you really set down and know them, and know their mind and their heart, they take you in…you are friends for life,” Corson said of the people she’s met so far. “It’s not like one little thing goes wrong or something divides you, you’re enemies.”
“I believe that we’ve come a long way,” she said of ADT 4’s progress so far in their mission. “When you look at five districts as a whole, you can see progress just across the board. But it’s going to take help even after we leave.”
“ADT 5 is coming here, which is great because there’s several different projects that they’ll need to follow up on. The most important is just that mentorship, to get them (Afghan counterparts) to think in terms of long-term and not just for tomorrow.”
“Sgt. Corson and I have worked together for years in the 138th Fires Brigade,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Bates of Louisville, Ky. Bates serves as head of ADT 4’s Ag Advisory Team. “Sgt. Corson has experience from a previous ADT deployment, so she’s got a lot stronger cultural awareness about the Afghan culture than almost anybody on the team.”
“One of the great things about the ADT is you’ve got Soldiers from different Brigades throughout the Kentucky National Guard all working together,” Bates added. “But we already know each other from working alongside each other at the 138th Brigade, so I already knew before I came on this mission that she was a very reliable leader who we could trust to get any kind of organizational tasks done.”
“Sgt. Corson is very organized,” he said. “She has great attention to detail, she’s got a tremendous work ethic, and she’s very scrupulous about making sure that everything gets done.”
“She jokes that she doesn’t have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)…she’s got CDO,” Bates observed. “Because that way, they’re in alphabetical order.”
“She has established a very strong rapport with the Afghan GIROA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) counterparts, such as the (Zharay) Extension Agent Sahki Dad,” Bates noted. “They trust her, and even some of the leaders from other (American) elements have turned to her for her feedback about these GIROA people because they feel like she’s earned their trust and she’ll be able to give a better assessment of their attitudes.”
“I don’t regret coming here to Afghanistan because I’m a Soldier–but I’m really looking forward to going home and getting to know my kids again and their personalities now that they’re grown,” Corson said. “I left, and now I have a high-schooler, I have a third-grader, and I have a Kindergartener, so I missed out on a little bit of time…and you can never make that time up.”
“I’m looking forward to getting back with my children, and then I look forward to going back to my home unit with my fellow artillery Soldiers,” Corson said.