During a three-decade career in the United States military, Colonel Darrel D. “AJ” Feucht has led missions in far-flung places like Nicaragua, Japan and Afghanistan. And on May 7, he was welcomed into the Wisconsin Army National Guard Hall of Honor in part due to homegrown lessons he brought halfway around the world.
Feucht (BS’85) shone academically, receiving a Guaranteed Reserve Forces Duty scholarship at UW-Madison in 1983, then earning his degree in Biological Systems Engineering in 1985. He stood out in the military as well, graduating first in his class at Fort Knox in Kentucky. Early in his career, he led units that routinely stood out from their counterparts.
Then came September 11, 2001. One of the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil in history would permanently alter the trajectory of his career. Soon after that day, he took command of a unit that aided the XVIII Airborne Corps in operational and intelligence mission.
But it would be Feucht’s work away from the noise and confusion of the battlefield that he hopes makes a lasting impact in the fields of Afghanistan.
In 2012, he was tasked with leading the first-ever Wisconsin Agri-business Development Team. Comprised of 58 Army and Air National Guard members, the collaboration with UW-Madison aimed to share agricultural expertise with Afghan farmers. The team counted diverse specialists in forestry, agronomy, agricultural marketing and hydrology among its ranks.
Agriculture is very important in Afghanistan; it accounts for about 45 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and 80 percent of the population is engaged in farming, herding or both.
Feucht knew there would be hurdles. Kunar’s terrain is mountainous and rugged, and its soil is not nearly as fertile as that of Columbus, Wis., his hometown. Decades of war have wrought destruction on most canals and irrigation systems. One unit of the team showed local farmers how to build root cellars to keep produce and dairy products cool, as there was no infrastructure in place to keep them from spoiling.
Spearheading such a unique mission was a “tremendous opportunity” according to Feucht, even if it was still a wartime exercise.
Feucht retired in 2013 after nearly 30 years of honorable service. He earned numerous military awards and decorations, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and more.