Navy Special Ops Demos Training in Azerbaijan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAKU, Azerbaijan, June 10, 2004 Spinning "donuts" in the Caspian Sea aboard special warfare rigid inflatable boats provided a thrilling introduction to Navy special operations for a group of U.S. civilian leaders here June 9..
Diane Garcia, owner and chief executive officer of 2G
Associates in Denver, fires an M-4 weapon during the 2004 Joint Civilian
Orientation Conference visit to Baku, Azerbaijan, June. Photo by Tech. Sgt.
Michael Buytas, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The high-speed maneuvers off the coast of Baku similar to those Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Jensen said special warfare combat crewman would use to evade enemy fire--highlighted a visit here by participants in the 2004 Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.
The U.S. civilians' visit here was part of their whirlwind visit this week to military sites to observe U.S. military operations and meet the men and women who carry them out. The conferees, from business, academia and local governments throughout the United States got a close-up view of cooperative training between U.S. Navy SEALS and their Azeri counterparts.
According to Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Csrnko commander of Special Operations Command Europe, the joint combined exercise is the part of an ongoing program to promote cooperation and understanding between the two countries' militaries. This was the third three-week training session between U.S. Navy SEAL Team 2's Hotel Platoon and Special Boat Team 20 from Little Creek Amphibious Base, Va., and the Azeri Navy's 641st Special Warfare Naval Unit, headquartered here.
Capt. 1st Rank Zaur Kaziyev, director of Azeri Naval Intelligence, told conference participants the training is "a big step forward" for Azerbaijan as it sets its sights on qualifying for NATO membership. The country currently participates in the Partnership for Peace program, which helps prepares countries meet NATO requirements.
"This training forges friendships and enhances cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United States," Kaziyev said. "I hope to see more of it in the future."
Increased cooperation between the two countries is critical, explained Crsnko, as Azerbaijan gains strategic importance and becomes increasingly important to the stability of Eurasia. A pipeline that will transport oil from the country's largely untapped offshore reserves to Turkey is expected to be completed next year, and a gas pipeline is also under construction.
Petty Officer Nick Rappo said he's encouraged by the skill and motivation he's witnessed among the Azeri SEALS participating in the combined training qualities Csrnko said will become critical for them to protect their country's pipelines.
"These guys are highly motivated and extremely eager to learn," Rappo said. "We've built a rapport and established a strong working relationship."
During their visit to the 641st Special Warfare Unit's training facility, U.S. civilian leaders witnessed snapshots of the cooperative training, including close-quarter combat drills and a stress course that requires shooters to race the clock as they move over, around and even under obstacles while engaging targets.
The civilians also got the opportunity to live-fire U.S. special operations weapons, handle both U.S. and Azeri weaponry and communications equipment, and chat with the SEALS about their mission.
Jim Schloeman, president of the Transport Museum Association in St. Louis, Mo., called the opportunity to observe the training and ride in a rigid inflatable boat "awesome."
"But it's really these guys who are awesome," he said. "I'm dazzled by these guys. I'm impressed that they're so unassuming, while it's obvious they have supreme confidence in their ability to do their jobs. That's pretty incredible."
Barbara Kellerman, director of research at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, called it "really stunning" to see the caliber of the Navy SEALS working with the Azeri Navy.
Kellerman said her participation in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference has opened her eyes to the magnitude of the U.S. military mission around the world. "I've never been as struck by the reach of the American military," she said.
But after visiting Navy SEALS here, Army National Guardsmen in Bosnia, and airmen at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Kellerman said she's particularly impressed by the professionalism of the U.S. armed forces as a whole something she said much of the American public doesn't fully appreciate.
"A trip like this gives you a good appreciation of the armed forces both their reach and quality," agreed Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of Premiere American Bank in Miami. "It's been a truly incredible experience."