BY JANET MANDELSTAM
Journalist Douglas Wissing describes himself as “half scholar, half adventurer.”
Combine those attributes with an award-winning career in which his work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, and National Geographic Traveler; toss in “a love of Indiana” and a long-standing interest in Central Asia, and you have two of Wissing’s recent endeavors: ten weeks embedded with an Indiana National Guard unit in Afghanistan and a book about Indiana beer.
Both projects came about in serendipitous ways. The Afghan story begins in Mexico where Wissing read an article about a Texas National Guard unit that was working with farmers in Afghanistan. “I saw that there was an Indiana team, too. Back home I made a few calls,” and soon he “went into rigorous training” to join them in rugged, volatile Khost province on the Pakistan border where “you get used to rocket attacks.” The attacks were so frequent, he says, that the unit’s base “was called Rocket City.” The Guard unit, known as the Agribusiness Development Team, was helping local farmers with small-scale, sustainable agricultural projects. Wearing 50 pounds of body armor, Wissing, 61, accompanied the soldier/farmers to remote villages, taking notes and photographs. The trip produced numerous articles and a 15-part series, Cultivating Afghanistan, for Indiana Public Media.
The beer story begins in Belgium where Wissing bought a six-pack at one of the country’s Trappist abbey breweries. “When I learned that the beer was ranked as the best in the world, I wrote an article about the confluence of spirituality and beer. Someone in Indiana saw the article and suggested I do a book about Indiana breweries.” The result is Indiana: One Pint at a Time; A Traveler’s Guide to Indiana Breweries.
Wissing’s Indiana roots run deep. “I’m as Hoosier as you get,” he says. Currently living in Bloomington, he is a descendant of French fur trappers who settled in Vincennes in the 1720s. And while researching the book on beer, “I learned that I was a descendant of a brewer,” he says. His great-great-grandfather was a brewer.
Wissing’s curiosity has taken him to Tibet to research and write a book about Albert Shelton, a Hoosier medical missionary who was one of the first Westerners to travel to remote regions of that country. And it’s taken him on roads all over the state to write Scenic Driving Indiana. For Wissing, “Central Asia and Middle America go together.”
What’s next for this scholar/adventurer? He’s currently working on a book about “the complexities of counterinsurgency and development” in Afghanistan. Then perhaps a trip to Nagaland, a remote region in the Indian Himalayas, or some other unknown challenge. “Opportunities present themselves, and if it interests me and I can do it, I go,” he says.