U.S. Soldiers help ready Georgian infantry for Iraq

TBLISI, Georgia – Maj. Buck O’Day, an infantry instructor from U.S. Army, Europe’s Joint Multinational Training Command, oversees a Georgian machinegun team during live-fire training here Aug. 16, 2006. O’Day is part of the U.S. European Command’s Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program Task Force II, which is training Georgian light infantry battalions for deployment to Iraq. (Department of Defense photo by Army Master Sgt. Derrick Crawford)

TBLISI, Georgia - A U.S. Army task force is currently training Georgia's 31st Light Infantry Battalion here for operations in support of the Global War on Terror. The 65-member team - spearheaded by Soldiers from U.S. Army, Europe's Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, Germany - began training operations in July 2006.

The training is part of U.S. European Command's Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operation Program, which began in 2005, and includes training and equiping Georgian forces while also providing security assistance.

The 31st Light Infantry Battalion is the first of three such units the U.S. task force is training. The instruction takes place in 12-week rotations, during a nine-month period. The Georgians are taught light-infantry tactics and specialized training for the battalion's military police, reconnaissance, communications and medical elements. "We are not training the battalion in stability and support operations, and we're not running a mission-rehearsal exercise," Army Lt. Col. Craig Jones, task force commander, said. "We're doing individual and collective infantry training to get these soldiers proficient as a light infantry battalion."

The task force's goal is to assist the Georgian military in providing capable, trained units to sustain their next scheduled deployment to Iraq, where they will augment United Nations forces.

"This is about coalition building," Jones said. "[Georgia] is an important ally to the United States and a strong partner within the EUCOM and USAREUR region," Jones said. "Currently, Georgians are contributing about 850 soldiers on the ground in Iraq."

The American Soldiers responsible for training the Georgians have plenty of experience in preparing troops for combat. They routinely train U.S. servicemembers, as well as international troops, for deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas around the world for combat and peacekeeping operations.

"We've been working on their basic warfighting skills," said Army Maj. Buck O'Day, an infantry trainer. "We started with about four weeks of mostly individual training, and then progressed to small-unit direction, such as moving under direct fire."

Besides the obvious language challenges, the U.S. trainers find their biggest impediment here is left-over Soviet-style organizational practices, which rely on centralized leadership from commissioned officers, with little or no responsibility given to its noncommissioned officers or enlisted members.

Consequently, the U.S. military trainers stress the need for enlisted members, particularly noncommissioned officers, to take charge of unit operations by putting them in situations where they must lead.

"They have the fundamentals of operating as a light infantry battalion," Jones said. "They are improving daily. By working with us, they understand the benefits of how the U.S. Army does business versus the way most of them were trained with the Russian-based aspect. They are mentally and physically tough and learn rapidly."

A medical team from the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Miesau, Germany, a mobile training team of military policeman from the U.S. Army Military Police School in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and a communications team from Fort Gordon, Ga., are also here to augment the training the task force is providing.

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