STUTTGART, Germany -- Sworn enemies during the Cold War, the Republic of Georgia - part of the former Soviet Union --and the United States are brothers in arms now, forming friendships and training side by side.
Gone are the Cold War days of mistrust and suspicion, replaced by feelings of cooperation and mutual respect, as U.S. forces work to prepare their Georgian counterparts for operations in Iraq and boost regional security in the Caucasus during the Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program. Under U.S. European Command direction, two battalions of Georgian soldiers are training with U.S. forces, led by Marines.
"We've become partners, working together for global peace, security and democratic freedom," said U.S. Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Dwaine Roberts of Detroit, a GSSOP staff member. "There's a mutual respect and open exchanges of ideas. The training is specifically designed to get the Georgians ready for their rotation to serve with the coalition forces in Iraq."
A clash of cultures and how military units operate is being worked through, said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Allison of Eagle River, Wis.
Georgians are accustomed to Soviet-style training, a very centralized type of organization where commissioned officers give very little leadership responsibility to enlisted members. But the U.S. style is very different, Allison said.
"The officers don't necessarily want to give up their responsibility and step aside and let the noncommissioned officers take care of the small items while the officers take care of the planning," Allison said. He offered an example.
"We're surprising them tomorrow, the officers and the enlisted, on the 17-kilometer hike. At 0900, when they fall out, we're pulling all of the officers out of the battalion and putting the enlisted in charge of the hike. That's not the way it was done under the old Soviet system," Allison said. Instead of leading the hike, the officers will receive military leadership classes.
The Soviet style of "spray and pray" in which weapons are fired in automatic mode at longer range, often from the hip, is giving way to the more controlled and precise, shorter range U.S. style of firing.
"The Georgians still have their Soviet weapons," Allison said. "It's an outstanding experience to learn about these weapons and see how they employ them. We've found you just can't scrap everything and go totally with the American way. Some of the Soviet techniques are very good, but we add the American mix to it."
Allison said that in some cases, the teachers become the students. "There are a lot of experienced soldiers, some who fought with the Soviet military in Afghanistan 15 years ago." Allison said. "We can learn from the techniques they have for firing the weapons."
Several Warsaw Pact nations - Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania - are contributing weapons and ammunition to GSSOP.
Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey Sundermier of Edgewater Park, N.J., the GSSOP operations chief, said interaction of the U.S. and Georgian soldiers is a "rewarding experience" for both parties. "The Georgians are enthusiastic, very perceptive and they enjoy the training. Many have never trained with foreign military, but with the outstanding work of our interpreters, the language barrier is being overcome," Sundermier said.
"They are excited to learn the American way of doing business, and they are proud to have the U.S. military over here helping," Allison said.
GSSOP continues through April.