KRTSANISI NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER, Republic of Georgia — A small detachment of Ramstein Airmen camp out in the foothills of Georgia's Caucasus Mountains, enclosed by snow capped peaks and kept company by stray dogs and roaming cattle. But what may sound like a wintertime camping excursion or a ski trip possibly gone awry, is actually a highly technical mission that involves providing a top-notch service to fellow warfighters.
Members of the 1st Combat Communications Squadron out of Ramstein deployed to the Republic of Georgia to provide operational and tactical communication capabilities to the Marine Corps Training and Advisory Group here.
At the request of the Georgian government, MCTAG designed a six-month combat training program where Marine cadres train Georgian soldiers with the 31st Georgian Army Battalion. The program is designed to familiarize them with counter-insurgency tactics, techniques and procedures in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan in support of International Security Assistance Forces. A majority of the training is conducted in the Krtsanisi National Training Center, a forward operating base of sorts, stood up in the austere countryside approximately 25 miles outside of Tbilisi.
The deployed communications airmen live and work alongside the Marine cadres, ensuring they have the critical capabilities of tactical combat communications in the field, to include DSN, Internet, secure and nonsecure lines and even secure video teleconferencing.
"It's our mission to manage the Georgian soldiers' training schedule and training plans, but this task would be impossible in this environment without the communication links the Air Force detachment provides us. They make a lot of things happen for us," said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Craig Wolfenbarger, Georgia Training Team officer in charge.
This small team of only eight airmen work around-the-clock in various climate conditions and challenging terrain to lend success to this foreign training initiative.
"The airmen provide so much more than just the right equipment; they provide us technical support as well, ensuring that we have a 24-hour safety net," Wolfenbarger said.
Now in the middle of their three-month tour, a lot of the hard work is behind them, but the team knows it will still take a lot of work to maintain the training site.
As with any bare-base undertaking, the initial challenges came early on with the development of a secure communications platform which had to be built nearly from the ground up. This included setting up and networking hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment and creating a plan for maintaining that network, which continues to support the Marine Corps staff and training site today.
"When we were first tasked with this mission, literally weeks of logistical planning had to be done to ensure the safety and success of our Airmen and of the equipment," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Waynick, 1st CBCS commander. "These guys have built and maintained a very robust communications platform here that has truly exceeded my expectations."
But for a unit that proudly embodies the mantra of "first in, last out," missions like this are all "part of a day's work" - made easier by the vigorous training schedule and commitment to excellence that the squadron demands of its airmen when back at Ramstein.
"Basically everything we do back at home station is to prepare us to do our job in this type of environment," said Airman 1st Class Evan Hess, one of the eight communications detachment members. "It's been exciting to have the opportunity put all of that exercising, training and preparation to work."