Training for Iraq boosts security in caucasus

28 Jun 2005 | - Petty Officer 1st Class Doug Kimsey

A unique military training program is weaving a mosaic of understanding and teamwork for future coalition efforts in Iraq while boosting security in the Caucasus, an integral part of the former Soviet Union.

The $64 million Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program, known as GSSOP and administered by U.S. European Command, recently began a 15-month run and is the answer to Georgia's commitment to deploy troops to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Two battalions of Georgian soldiers are receiving training that includes light infantry tactics; brigade-level engineer, logistics, reconnaissance and signal skills; and command and control training at the brigade level and above.

"A strong Georgian military lends itself to stability in the (Caucasus) region," said Maj. Doug Peterson, Georgia desk officer for EUCOM policy and assessments. "Where you have stability in a country with a government that supports democracy and a free market economy, that's one less place that the U.S. has to concern itself."

Peterson added that GSSOP will enhance Georgia's "interoperability in coalition and NATO operations by raising their soldiers' capability. It makes them a viable candidate for NATO accession as well."

GSSOP is a five-phased train-and-equip program focused on enhancing the capabilities of the Georgian armed forces to meet their deployment obligations in support of coalition stability efforts.

Marine Corps Forces Europe is leading the training and providing the largest U.S. contingent of trainers. No more than 70 U.S. servicemembers - from all military branches - will deploy to Georgia at any given time. The Krtsanisi National Training Center is the site of the program, which will train and equip more than 1,200 Georgian soldiers in ground combat skills and tactics, including marksmanship, first aid, urban drills and search techniques.

Other phases include training the reconnaissance, engineer and signal companies as well as training and equipping the military staffs and logistics battalions of both brigades.

Lt. Col. Chuck Hensley, chief of the EUCOM Operations Division's international cell, said this program is a classic example of coalition building and fostering international understanding. "In the short term, Georgia provides two battalions to Iraq that the U.S. doesn't have to provide. That allows us to focus in other areas," Hensley said. "In the long term, Georgia gets a better-trained total force, which numbers right now around 22,000."

The U.S. task force is composed of Marine infantry and small-arms trainers, a Navy emergency medical training team, Air Force communications technicians and an Army contracting expert and visual communications specialist.

"This program fosters close relations," said Lt. Col. Aric Whatley, Georgia desk officer for EUCOM logistics and security. "We have them familiar with how we train, how we operate, how we equip (soldiers). The Georgians we train will go to Iraq, make their contributions to the effort and return home, taking with them new capabilities and the valuable experience of working closely with the U.S. in a coalition effort."

Hensley said he identified one specific aspect of the training that likely will benefit Georgian troops greatly. "They will see the role of the higher-ranking (noncommissioned officers) in training," he said. "We believe that you get better-trained units when you don't rely solely on your officers to make all the decisions and do all the training. That is different than the old Russian way of operating."

The 23rd Light Infantry Battalion and other Georgian battalions will soon replace Georgian units now serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The EUCOM task force will continue training the Georgian military through April 2005 in an ongoing cooperative military program. This training builds upon the success of Georgian Train and Equip Program, which ended in 2004.

"The Georgians are satisfied with the units that came from GTEP and believe that the SSOP infantry battalions will be trained and ready for deployment to Iraq," Peterson said.

(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Doug Kimsey is assigned to U.S. European Command public affairs.)

Headquarters Marine Corps