KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — It was a fairly short but weighty deployment for the soldiers of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command. The majority of the 21st TSC's soldiers who deployed to Republic of Georgia on a humanitarian assistance mission there returned to Panzer Kaserne Sept. 10, 2008. The others returned in smaller numbers at various times and dates.
About 100 personnel from the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard formed the U.S. European Command Joint Assessment Team to support Operation Assured Delivery in Georgia Aug. 18 to Sept. 10. The days between were chuck-full of challenges and opportunities to make a world of difference.
More than 1,145 short tons of humanitarian assistance supplies were flown to Tbilisi, Georgia. Among those supplies were more than half a million humanitarian daily rations and Meals-Ready-to-Eat; 25,000 hygiene kits; 20,000 sleeping bags and more than 8,000 cots.
An additional 123 short tons of supplies were delivered by sea. These supplies included more hygiene products, blankets, baby food and care supplies, bottled water, juice and powdered milk.
While the numbers are impressive, they don't provide the full picture.
"The first couple of days we were there stress levels and anxiety were very high. It was heartbreaking and very, very sad to encounter; especially the uncertainty of the future that a lot of people in Georgia have," said Brig. Gen. Jon Miller, the 21st TSC's deputy commanding general and commanding general of the 7th Army Reserve Command, who served as the commanding officer for Operation Assured Delivery.
"A lot of it was not so much the humanitarian assistance, but our presence, just us being there, that had a major impact," he said.
It was an impact that was greeted with exuberance and a lot of appreciation, he said. "Whether your car was stopped at a red light or you were walking down a street, people would give you the thumbs-up to show their appreciation. Everywhere you went, there was so much appreciation," Miller continued.
Col. Charles Maskell, the 21st TSC's chief of support operations who served as chief of staff of the mission and was part of the advance team that arrived in Georgia on Aug. 13, recalled it being that way from day one.
"When I got off the plane, I could feel nothing but appreciation. That's a really good feeling to have," he said.
In addition to the appreciation expressed by the Georgians, the team came away with another set of appreciation - appreciation for each other and their respective services.
"I left this operation with the greatest respect for our military and the cooperation and the developing relationship between the services," said Air Force Col. Mark Hering, the mission's deputy commanding officer.
Maskell agreed, saying it makes all the difference and helps greatly to have the right people on your team. "Quite frankly, we had the very best of the best from all the services," he said.
In addition to the cooperation between the different branches of the military, the team also worked with other government agencies. The effort in Georgia is being coordinated by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, with support from the Department of Defense.
"The members of the congressional delegations who came in to assess the situation gave us an opportunity to establish relationships with that part of the humanitarian mission. The Georgian government's Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Refugees all worked 24/7 and provided us with a good understanding of what was going on," Miller said.
For the team members from the 21st TSC, the mission also served to validate their training.
"The 21st TSC soldiers have been training a lot. We have been training in Grafenwoehr. We were part of Immediate Response 08 (in Georgia), and it has served us very well in completing this particular mission," Maskell said.
Command Sgt. Maj. David Stading, command sergeant major for Operation Assured Delivery and of the 7th Army Reserve Command, emphasized the value of multi-national, multi-service cooperation and training exercises for noncommissioned officers.
"It will allow us to step up to the challenge. It will increase our soldiers' readiness to respond to this type of humanitarian assistance mission," he said.