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Phone Interview with the Commander of the Georgia Train and Equip Program

Presenter: Lt. Col. Robert M. Waltemeyer
May 30, 2002 10:00 AM EDT

(Phone interview with the commander of the Georgia Train and Equip Program)

Staff: Well, I have about 10:00, so let's go ahead and get started. This morning -- thank you all for coming -- we're here to talk about the Georgia Train and Equip Program, which essentially responds to a request made by President Shevardnadze last October. This training actually began on Monday, the 27th of May, and it's really an extension of our ongoing bilateral security cooperation with the Republic of Georgia.

Today we have on the telephone line for you Lieutenant Colonel Robert Waltemeyer. Age is 40, and he's from Baltimore, Maryland. And he is the commander of the Georgia Train and Equip Program. And he's here by telephone today to take your questions. And he may have something that he wants to say here up-front.

So, Colonel Waltemeyer, are you there?

Waltemeyer: Yes, I'm here.

Staff: Go ahead.

Waltemeyer: Good morning, everybody. I hope that you have a copy of our slides or have been provided with some type of background or data sheet regarding the program. I realize we have a limited amount of time here, and I'll be able to focus in on your questions better if you have that kind of information. Is that correct?

Staff: They do. Or if they don't, they're getting it right now.

Waltemeyer: Okay. Okay. I'll bring you up to date, then.

In April, I came over here with a small group of folks from European Command and Special Operations Command Europe and we spent the better part of a month conducting a logistics and engineer assessment for the final setup of the program. Our main body arrived about a week ago, with a great cooperative effort from all the agencies here in Georgia. And we've been on the ground.

We've just completed -- or we are completing our first week of staff training, while at the same time we're setting up the tactical phase, that is preparing the ranges, the billets, the types of things we'll need to start training the various battalions we'll work with.

We're already starting to see the success of our goals in terms of interoperability between the various ministries and security agencies here in this first week of training. We've had 120 -- over 120 students per day in the rank of captains, colonels and generals, sitting side by side, from agencies who traditionally don't have the opportunity to work together. 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, you know, from the top down to the tactical level. In fact, they've even asked for extra classes, tutoring, and focus-group discussions on the weekend. They're rather interested and their interest, frankly, is inspirational to an instructor.

Since we've been here, we've had a great partnership with the other defense attaches. In fact, I briefed all the defense attaches this week. That was the cooperative approach to working together to help each other help -- (inaudible). These folks are sharing tips with myself and my instructors. And this is really -- this is really turning out to be a great opportunity for all of us.

The majority of my folks are Special Forces, and although our operations are inherently joint, combined, and interagency, you know, it's great, this being the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Green Berets, to celebrate that on a mission of this type where so many things that we've prided ourselves for so many years are really coming together for us in a cooperative, enthusiastic atmosphere.

Staff: Okay. With that, I think we've got some questions out here for you. Okay?

Waltemeyer: Okay.

Staff: Charlie? Go ahead.

Q: Colonel, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. Are any of these officers -- these captains, colonels, generals you were speaking about -- are any of them now going to take part in IMET? And will that help, having them come to this country to attend staff colleges?

Waltemeyer: IMET I can answer on two levels. Number one, we've already identified those members of their forces who have attended the IMET program, and those folks are actively participating as assistant instructors with us and helping us communicate some rather complex ideas. Additionally, we're identifying people who we'll recommend back to European Command for future consideration for that program.

Q: Good morning, Colonel. It's Thom Shanker from The New York Times. I have a couple of boring logistical questions for you, then a broader one, if I could. Is your training being undertaken in Georgian, in Russian or in English or a combination of those? Can you describe for us what specialties you brought over? Are your troops in traditional ODA formation or something else?

And the broader question, sir: Could you share with us the kind of questions you're getting from the Georgians? What are their areas of particular interest that they see you as teaching them?

Waltemeyer: Okay. First of all, the first question was logistics, language, and the last one was curriculum; is that correct?

Q: Yes, that's fine.

Waltemeyer: First of all, it is said that experts discuss logistics, amateurs discuss tactics. So I'd like to start with logistics first. We came in here, we established that base, and we continue to do that. The logistics of the program are pretty much -- are pretty well set. We've been well-supported in the effort. In terms of language, everything is Georgian and English, and we work with our interpreters. In fact, there's about for rehearsals that go into that process before we get up on the platform and give that to them.

The composition of my men are based on a mixture of experts from European Command, Special Operations Command and my own Special Forces soldiers. And based on their education level, on their background, we've put together a task force, essentially, of experts to teach the various requirements. And the feedback we're getting to date is apparently the student body is very enthusiastic and interested in what we're teaching and the way we're teaching it. They're really interested in the civilian and military interface that we have through our own secretary of Defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and how to break up the various service responsibilities. That's something that is new to them, and they're very interested in that. They're very interested in how we do budgeting, in fact, and how we apportion monies to our various forces.

Staff: Next question, please.

Q: Good morning, Colonel. Nathan Hobbs, Defense Week.

I wondered if you could discuss a little bit some of the problems the Georgian military has inherited from the Soviets -- particularly extreme hazing and a lack of qualified NCOs. Are you addressing any of those issues?

Waltemeyer: I can't address any hazing or anything of that nature as a result of Soviet influence or lack of Soviet influence. But what I can say is that the NCO system is something that is new to an army of this nature, and it's something we're addressing. In fact, a preponderance of my instructors are noncommissioned officers for exactly that reason -- so that they can see the strength of the American noncommissioned officer corps.

To that end, one of the other nations here -- I believe the Germans are contributing NCO training, as well as the Czechs have contributed NCO training. What we're doing is sitting down with those folks in kind of a mini-coalition here, and we're working through what has been trained previously, what will be trained in the future and trying to make sure that Georgia Train and Equip takes all these other factors into consideration, so that we don't, you know, train in a direction that's not appropriate for the Georgians or any other programs going on here.

Next question?

Q: Sir, this is Kathy Rehm from American Forces Press Service.

Have you been experiencing any issues in having NCOs deal with officers in this foreign military? And what would you describe as the greatest challenge that's facing the Georgian military or that's facing you training them?

Waltemeyer: First question, on the NCOs; second question is challenges. First, let me answer the NCOs.

No, in fact. When I arrived here, one of the things I did at the highest levels of the military leadership is make sure they understood that my noncommissioned officers, you know -- they're the backbone of our military force in the United States, and that's how they're going to be applied here. We're going to apply the maturity and expertise and have them try to inspire these same in their counterparts. That's number one.

Number two, challenges in terms of logistics, in terms of -- (inaudible) -- in terms of attitude -- this has been one of the easier missions that I've been on to set up, and considering lack of challenges in that area, the host nation is very concerned about making sure that we are comfortable here. We have security. We have support. We have transportation. We have translation. You name it; the Georgians are bending over backwards to make us feel at home.

Next question?

Q: Hi. Neil Baumgardner, Defense Daily.

A question -- you've talked a lot about the training portion. I was wondering if you could talk about what kind of equipment is being provided to the Georgian military. Is it radios, helicopters, whatever?

Waltemeyer: Okay, on equipment, as part of my program, we are providing small arms ammunition, small arms equipment. I -- we can provide more information in terms of the individual uniforms -- boots, helmets and field gear that we're providing to the Georgia Train and Equip mission. However, what we're trying to do is some of the other programs that are in here -- for instance, the former FMF case, where both the United States and the Turks contributed helicopters. And we've integrated already with that effort between ourselves and Turks and the contractors that are already here. And we will start right within about the next week here, getting accurate property records of everything that's been contributed to all the units we're going to be training with, so that we can merge, you know, and leverage all the benefits of all the great equipment that's been contributed by everybody.

Next question.

Q: Yeah, George Edmondson, Cox Newspapers.

Two questions: One, what sort of specialized training are you planning to help them combat terrorism, particularly up in the Pankisi Gorge? And also, related to the previous question: What sort of concerns do you have about corruption and lack of discipline in the system there?

Waltemeyer: First issue, on specialized training; the second issue is -- sorry, could you repeat the second part of your question there?

Q: The corruption --

Waltemeyer: I got it. I got it.

Okay, specialized training: The basis of this training program for the tactical phase will be tailored to the specific type of unit. In other words, the commandos will be basically airmobile. The 16th Mountain will conduct light infantry operations in mountainous terrain. The 11th Motorized Rifle Brigade's infantry company will be conduct light infantry operations, operating with tanks and personnel carriers. And there will be a Special Forces battalion trained and then a med company team.

The bottom line is, they're being trained in standard combined-arms operations that they would conduct in the type of terrain we find here. That's predominantly plateau and some low mountains. And we'll be able to operate to conduct light infantry operations as they would in a counterinsurgency environment -- specifically Pankisi. We are not going to the Pankisi, have no plans to go to Pankisi. However, if you look at previous press releases, it will say "Pankisi-like conditions," and that implies, obviously, a light-infantry-based requirement.

The other thing you mentioned was corruption. I don't think I'm qualified to comment on corruption. I've not seen any, and I'm not aware of any. I'm here to train and equip.

Q: Sir, this is Pauline --

Waltemeyer: Next question, please.

Q: This is Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press.

Waltemeyer: Hi.

Q: One of the reasons we were told for the training program was the possible presence of al Qaeda in the Pankisi Gorge, and if they weren't there, this would help prevent them from coming there. Do you get the sense from your students or local community people you might have come into contact with that this is a big concern -- that they're glad you're there helping them with this? Do they feel like they're a part of the war against terrorism?

Waltemeyer: First, on Pankisi and al Qaeda: Again, I am not -- I'm not prepared to comment on that, because I'm not aware of any of those type of folks being there -- one.

Number two, I do know that we're here to help maintain -- 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 type of terrorist organizations that would seek haven or transit through this region. So obviously, they feel as though they're part of the antiterrorism coalition. Obviously, they're very happy that we're happy that we're here. Obviously, they see themselves as important to precluding the types of lawlessness and insurgency that might contribute to the impression that they'd have difficulty in defending their own territory from that.

Q: Colonel -- Colonel, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters again. You haven't said, how many trainers have you there now? Are they all there? And number two, this program is costing about $64 million -- costing the United States about $64 million, which is a drop in the bucket to Washington. But is not that bigger than Georgia's whole defense budget in what virtually is a darn poor country?

Waltemeyer: Number one, I've got about -- the answer to the question on trainers, I have about 70 trainers here. And based on our specific requirements, I'll rotate trainers in and out, but we'll never have more than 150 total trainers and support personnel on the ground.

Sixty-four million? Sixty-four million is not a drop in the bucket to a fellow like me. I kind of feel, as an American taxpayer, much like the rest of you, I have a responsibility for every single penny being spent over here. And I can give you my word that we're accounting for every last bit of it, to include every piece of equipment we give to these folks. And they're equally as concerned about the perception that they're conducting good property accountability procedures and security of the equipment we'll bring in here.

I don't know what the Georgian defense budget is, but I can tell you that $64 million will be well-spent and well-invested and will greatly enhance the already enthusiastic and dedicated force we found on the ground here.

Next question.

Q: This is Lisa Burgess with Stars and Stripes. A two-part question. First of all, talking again about what you're supplying to them, we're talking about small arms and ammo. Is this just enough to train the officers that you're working with, or are you supplying enough small arms and ammo for the entire army?

And then I have a follow-up.

Waltemeyer: Okay, let me clarify. We'll train about 200 staff officers, and at the end of it, what they'll be able to do, at the end of the 70-day program of instruction for staff, is they'll be able to administer the rest of the train and equip program. That's everything from training plans to equipment we're bringing in.

Now, what we will do is we will train -- let me check my math here -- four, 400-men battalions, and then a 250-man mech company team. So we are bringing ammunition and arms to round out the requirements to provide that kind of training for roughly 2,000 tactical soldiers. These staff officers may or may not be part of the battalions we're training -- certainly not all of them. But again, this equipment and ammunition is being specifically brought in for the approved four battalions and one mechanized company team.

Q: Okay. So it's just enough ammunition and arms to work them through that training cycle, not to anticipate any further operations.

Waltemeyer: No. Each and every bullet is matched to a firing table for each and every exercise that they'll participate in. So the answer to your question and the question I think you're getting at is no, we're not leaving war stocks here.

Q: Thanks. That will do it.

Waltemeyer: Next question.

Q: Yeah. Jim Mannion from AFP. I wonder if you could give a sense of what it is that the Georgian military lacks that they require this training that you're providing.

Waltemeyer: I think what they lack, frankly, is they lack resources. They lack resources. They're certainly not lacking in enthusiasm and they're certainly not lacking in discipline, professionalism. I mean, the folks we see here are pretty mentally and physically tough. What they really lack is the focused resource effort that this program is providing. So that, you know, at least during the 70-day staff training program instruction and then the additional 100-day blocks for each battalion, what they really lack and what they'll be provided here is specific focus, specific logistics, specific requirements for their training.

Next question.

Q: Sir, Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. One question on the trainers themselves. Can you give us a feel for their level of experience, in terms of how many types of operations they've been involved in in the past, and the types of foreign internal defense training they've participated in? And second, the commando battalion in particular, will this be the core, almost strike force for a counterinsurgency effort, or will all the battalions you're training share that kind of expertise?

Waltemeyer: Okay. The first question is -- and I'll check and make sure you have a copy of the slides based on the experience of my trainers and the number of missions they've been on. I've got one old "Vietnamer" here with me, and he's got experience doing that as far back as that. I have folks on my team that have done similar missions in Africa, South America, Central America and throughout the world. So we've got a very experienced crew here, and we've kind of brought all of our various experiences together and blended it into a pretty good medley here of training for these folks.

And then second, commando strikes. Each one of the battalions is going to end up with a similar capability, and that being light-infantry, daylight -- (inaudible word) -- size attacks.

Now, the commandos, yes, we'll maximize the use of the helicopters that are already here, provided by the U.S. and the Turkish programs. But then each of them, once they get on the ground will have basically the same capabilities in light infantry.

Next question.

Q: Sir, this is Kathy Rhem from American Forces Press Service again. Can you explain to us what your living conditions are like? And what kind of interaction do you have with the Georgian officers other than in the classroom? Are you being exposed to the Georgian culture at all? And what are your thoughts about being in Georgia?

Waltemeyer: Living conditions and interaction with officers. Okay. In the interim what we did, so that we could set up as quickly as possible, and we actually saved quite a bit of money that we can plow directly back into the program at the outset, is we're living in the -- (inaudible) -- and that Sheraton is -- was convenient and had all the requirements that we needed to get started as quickly as possible. So our living conditions are -- (inaudible) -- and it's providing offices for us and those kind of things.

The next thing is interaction with the officers. Since we've been here, we've been interacting with them on an almost 24-hour basis so that we can, you know, have a good, focused cooperative approach and everybody's working together.

In terms of off-time and getting to see the country, well, we hope that's coming, but I tell you what, folks are working hard here and we've got some rather demanding and eager students that we want to make sure that we please and honor, so that's what our focus is right now.

Next question.

Staff: Colonel, your first answer in regards to your own living conditions came across garbled on the line. Could you repeat that for us, please?

Waltemeyer: Yeah. What we did -- can you hear me?

Staff: You're fine now.

Waltemeyer: Okay. While we're having our base camp built out at one of the training areas, we've moved into a hotel here, a Sheraton, because again, it was the cheapest and most cost-effective option. We've actually been able to save quite a bit of money to plow back into the program because we didn't have to do any improvements anywhere else. The safety, force protection, and the concern for housing and feeding my men were immediately addressed, so we could get right down to business.

Next question.

Q: It's John McWethy with ABC News. When do you anticipate in your time line you will get to the phase three stuff -- the more advanced training, the more interesting commando day and night tactics?

Waltemeyer: We are currently scheduled to kick that off on 27 August. Right now we're going through the process of helping them assess those folks and organize for that. We've already gone out and set up training areas, and we're staking out all the range requirements for that.

But really, the staff training, I feel, if you want to have a strong foundation, the staff training is where you need to start. Although it's not as visually interesting, as exciting and, you know, we don't get to run around and have as much fun as we're used to, to really train from a national level, to be able to employ the force with the capabilities we're going to give them, I think this is the right way to do it.

Next question.

Q: Are you training any internal security forces?

Waltemeyer: Internal security forces? We're training a number of ministries here, a number of ministry representatives. We have a number sitting in the class. I would have to -- let me list here -- Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Internal Defense, Ministry of State Security, State Special Police Service, Georgia Border Guards, and I think that may be all of them. But we're just conducting staff training only with those folks, and we keep rigorous accountability of who we're training, and we make sure that we foster that interoperability which is so important to get these folks to work together for perhaps the first time they've ever worked together in their history. And it's really great to see these folks sitting among each other, talking, having intellectual discussions. And you can tell these guys have just not had that opportunity before, and it's great to see.

Next question.

Q: I understand you're rebuilding a barracks. Are there other construction projects your troops are involved in?

Waltemeyer: Rebuilding barracks -- what we're doing is, we were able to provide some quality-of-life improvements in some of their bases. And we are not completely rebuilding barracks, but what we're doing, much as the Turks have here, we're trying to spread those programs, you know, that wealth around the country here. We're improving some basic electricity, basic water utilities and just trying to improve the living conditions of a lot of their soldiers.

And that's been a good thing. That's been well received, obviously. And we just hope that'll kind of improve their living conditions and make them better participants in the training.

Next question.

Q: It's Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press again.

Sir, can you say how long the entire program is expected to take, how long you'll be there?

Waltemeyer: The entire program -- I think we've timelined it out to 21 -- I can't remember what exact date that is from now, but it's about 21 months from now. And that's putting all of the staff training and the tactical phases and with a little bit of an assessment phase between each one. We have to provide a detailed assessment at the beginning, middle and end of each phase. We send that back to the European Command, where it goes to the JCS, so that they can make sure that the program is on track, the training is on track, it's appropriate, and the investment in terms of time, money and manpower is well spent.

Q: And that's all at the same -- I'm sorry. That's all at the same location except one location that you're at?

Waltemeyer: No. No, the staff training, ma'am, will be conducted in a number of locations -- (inaudible) -- the capital, and that's to foster interoperability. We move around to the various agencies, so they feel welcome coming into the classroom -- one. The commanders will be trained at Krtsanisi, and then we'll train the next battalion a little north of town, at a place called Satchki. And we'll go to each one of their locations and one, build them a range complex, a little training area, and at the same time, approve some of their basic living facilities.

So it's going to be a total of about four locations by the end of -- just on the edges of Tbilisi, north, south, east and west.

Q: Thank you.

Waltemeyer: Next question.

Q: Neil Baumgardner again, Defense Daily.

A question - as part of this program, are you conducting any sort of assessment of Georgia's military requirements, in terms of equipment? Or can you just make any sort of observations that you've made of what they need, whether it be more helicopters or trucks or small arms, whatever?

Waltemeyer: Well, an important aspect of all U.S. military training is the assessment phase. You know, we have a four-phase process where we assess everything. We have been given complete access to everything here in Georgia. This is my third trip here. On our previous two assessments, we've been welcomed into arms rooms, storage areas, been able to see everything because they want to share that with us and show us what they have. And based on those assessments, that's how we set up the Georgia train-and-equipment program in this phase. We'll continue to assess their training requirements, continue to assess their equipment requirements and continue to set that up. But the important thing is for right now just taking care of what's here for this program.

Q: Sir, this is Tony Capaccio again with Bloomberg. When the news first came out that the U.S. was sending troops to train in Georgia, there was a great hubbub, and it was an attempt to connect what you were doing there with our efforts in Yemen, in the Philippines, in the Sudan. Can you step back a second and give us your take on where you fit in in terms of the big picture of the U.S. war on terrorism, in terms of building coalitions where there were none before?

Waltemeyer: Well, I would hope that all these efforts are tied together. I'm certain that they are. Unfortunately, I have -- I don't have as much visibility on Yemen and the Philippines, obviously, as I do with Georgia, but I can tell you the folks here feel that they are contributing from a regional perspective to the U.S. anti-terrorism coalition.

I'm not sure if I answered your question correctly there, or got your meaning

Q: This sort of builds on Tony's question a little bit, but I'm coming at it from a different angle. Lisa Burgess again from Stars and Stripes. We do these sorts of programs frequently. Can you explain how this train-and-equip is different from other train-and-equips that have been done in the past? Is it much larger, more extensive, or similar to things that we've done recently?

Waltemeyer: I would say the one thing that is different is, number one, from the commander on the ground's perspective, I was brought in with my men straight up front, so the guys actually conducting the mission were afforded the opportunity by Special Operations Command Europe, European Command and the JCS to come in here and really, you know, give the military experts, you know, eye on the ground to what needed to happen.

And number two, I think a very important thing is we are training from the top down. In other words, the folks that will administer this program long after we're gone are the folks that are being empowered with the ability to plan and sustain this after our departure. So I'm very comfortable with the way this is going because we're training the leadership first in how to take care of this thing, and ensure our U.S. investment lasts quite a few years after our departure.

Next question.

Q: Just looking for your unit of assignment. A question from Reuters, looking for what your unit of assignment is.

Waltemeyer: We're 10th Special Forces Group from Fort Carson.

Staff: Okay. Well -- well, it looks like we have one more question. Go ahead, Lisa.

Q: I was trying to get an answer to -- this is Lisa Burgess again. I'm sorry. I'm trying to get an answer to the question, is this larger than other programs you've done in the past? Not you personally, but programs that you know of. And I may be asking the wrong person.

Waltemeyer: Yeah, I'm -- this is a large, comprehensive program in terms of the ones that my guys have been involved in. I couldn't comment on any others. But I do know this is a pretty big one for the guys I have over here with me. This would compare to OFR in Africa, I think, in terms of size, scope and investment.

Staff: There's one more here, and we'll wrap it up then.

Q: Yes, sir, this is Tony Capaccio again with Bloomberg. You'd mentioned interoperability. At the end of the 21 months, what types of infrastructure or interoperability training do you hope to leave there so that the United States would be able to work with these Georgian troops in the event of an emergency over the next decade?

Waltemeyer: Well, that's a good question. At the end of the day, obviously, from top to bottom they're going to understand U.S. doctrine, which is heavily steeped in standard NATO agreements. That's one.

Number two is they're going to have equipment and arms that in many cases, especially the communications gear, will be interoperable with our own. They'll have standard operating procedures among themselves that are based on our own best standard operating procedures that we're bringing forward from our service schools. And I guess the only other thing I could say is they'll have the seal of approval from U.S. Special Forces to make sure it's a good program.

Staff: Well, Colonel Waltemeyer, we appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today, and on behalf of everyone in the room here I'm sure, I wish you the best of luck as you go forward in this training.

Waltemeyer: Thank you very much.

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