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American Troops Training, Equipping Georgian Military

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2002 – Improving the Georgian military will ultimately aid the American war on global terrorism, the Georgia Train and Equip Program commander said today in a telephone interview.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Waltemeyer spoke to Pentagon reporters from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. He said 70 American service members, most of them noncommissioned officers, are in the former Soviet republic on a 21-month mission.

"We are here to help the Georgian armed forces improve their ability to maintain stability and sovereignty in this region, which would obviously deny safe haven to any of those types of terrorist organizations that would seek safe haven or transit through this region," he said.

Georgia has been the focus of international attention because of persistent reports of al Qaeda terrorists hiding in the country's Pankisi Gorge. Waltemeyer said his troops have no intention of going near the gorge themselves, but they're preparing the Georgian troops to operate in "Pankisi-like conditions."

The U.S. Defense Department is spending about $64 million to train and equip four specialized battalions, one company-sized team, and about 200 staff officers in Georgia. The training will be conducted in four phases that will target each unit's specific mission, including air- mobile commandos, and light, mountain and mechanized infantry, Waltemeyer said.

One challenge facing the Georgian armed forces has been common in the militaries of the former Soviet republics: They need to build a professional noncommissioned officer corps.

Waltemeyer explained that most American trainers on this mission are NCOs, specifically to expose the Georgians to their maturity, professionalism and expertise. He said he made it clear to Georgia's military leaders at the outset that American NCOs are "the backbone of our military force in the United States, and that's how they were going to be applied here."

The Georgians, he said, are also particularly interested in the American tradition of civilian control of the military and in how the U.S. defense establishment apportions the military budget among the services.

The American team is providing small arms and personal uniforms and equipment to the Georgian military, but only enough live ammunition to complete this training program. "Each and every bullet is matched to a firing table for each and every exercise that they'll be participating in," Waltemeyer said. "We're not leaving war stocks here."

He said he's impressed by the Georgian officers' commitment to this training program. "They've been active, engaged and enthusiastic, and rather demanding to learn this U.S. approach to developing, maintaining, training and sustaining a national force from the top down to the tactical level," he said.

The Georgian officers have even asked for extra classes, tutoring and focus-group discussions on the weekend. "Their interest, frankly, is inspirational to an instructor," Waltemeyer said.

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DoD News Transcript: Phone Interview with the Commander of the Georgia Train and Equip Program, May 30, 2002

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