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Georgians work through the sticks during Afghan ISAF mission prep exercise

US Marine Corps News

By Sgt. Rocco DeFilippis, Marine Forces Europe

As a crowd of civilians gathers on the streets of their village—carrying about their normal business of selling things, talking to friends, and shoveling the snow from their door steps—a company of soldiers from the Republic of Georgia’s 31st Light Infantry Battalion move in to investigate a rumored weapons cache and possible high-value-target (HVT) individual.

Slovenian soldiers role-playing as Afghan National Army soldiers assist the Georgians as they set up the cordon, and U.S. Marines from 5th Aerial and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLCO) communicate with and observation helicopter flying above the town.

The Georgian company commander meets with the police chief and village elders to solidify his intelligence and then sends his men to search a non-descript, two story building thought to contain the weapons. As the soldiers approach the target house, the HVT attempts to flee, but the Georgian security perimeter set around the house manages to bring him down.

Led by local a police man, the Georgians begin to toss the suspected stash house and after a few minutes, AK-47s, rocket propelled grenades, pistols, knives, homemade explosives and improvised explosive devices (IED) are popping out from every nook and cranny of the house: on windowsills, in closets, under beds, in hidden wall-compartments, and some in plain sight.

Throughout the whole process, U.S. Army and Marine observer/controllers (OC) follow closely behind the action with their blue note cards and waterproof notebooks—writing comments, noting deficiencies and highlighting accomplishments.

Training in the Sticks

This cordon and search training event comes as one part of a six-day lane training session. The lane training, some times referred to as sticks training, is the first portion of the Georgian mission rehearsal exercise (MRE), an exercise that provides the final evaluation of the 31st Battalion as they prepare for a deployment to Afghanistan in support of International Security Assistance Forces there.

The MRE is being conducted here at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC), a state of the art military training facility that trains international forces from across Europe.

According to Marine Capt. Tim D. Wright, MRE observer/controller from 2nd Tank Battalion and a Pittsburgh native, the sticks training covers a variety of training items such as IED training, sensitive site exploitation, mounted and dismounted patrolling, key leader engagement, pre-combat checks/pre-combat inspections, reporting, base operations, casualty evacuation procedures, helicopter landing zone setup, and several live-fire ranges.

“The sticks training basically covers the whole gamut of operations that an infantry battalion is required to perform,” said Cpl. Michael Warner, MRE observer/controller with Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wire-guided Missile (TOW) Platoon, 2nd Tank Battalion and a Baltimore native. “They have been training in these areas these past months as part of the [Georgia Deployment Program], and the things we refresh in the sticks are going to be evaluated during the final portion of the exercise.”

Due to the importance of the final evaluation, Wright said the sticks portion of the training provided valuable refreshers and allowed for a time to work out any kinks going into the final portions of the exercise.

Observing andControlling Marine Corps Style

Watching the Army and Marine observer/controllers at work highlights a different viewpoint the groups take toward their assigned missions.

Warner, who has participated in thorough pre-deployment training evolutions such as Combined Arms Exercise and Mohave Viper, has never served as an OC before. However, he says he is enjoying seeing the ‘other side’ to this mission.

“Being an OC is new for me and it is a bit challenging because it’s a lot different than the usual hands on approach a [noncommissioned officer] takes when he trains his own Marines,”

Warner said. The Army OCs take very seriously their role as impartial, neutral observers who evaluate the training without influencing it, according to Warner. However, due to the fact that the Georgians are slated to fight along side U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, Warner said that while they are not there to teach by the numbers, the Marines are looking for mentorship and training moments as much as possible throughout the evolution.

“We take a big brother approach,” Warner said. “We do sit back and observe, but if an issue arises or we see an opportunity to mentor, we will take the platoon sergeant or platoon leader aside to share our opinion and impart some of our knowledge.”

Despite the small difference in how the Army and Marine OCs approach their role in the training, Wright said they are still focusing on their initial task at hand.

With the constant reminder of the future deployment ties between the Georgians and U.S. Marines, Wright described the mission of the Marine OCs.

“We are here to make sure Marine language is used, to ensure [the Georgians] are trained and evaluated to Marine Corps standards, and to provide objective input for our assessment, so that we can pass that up to the [Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan] commander.” Wright said.

Final Exam

As the final portions of stick training conclude, the MRE is beginning to transition into the final, and most important, stage: the final exercise or FINEX.

According to Marine Lt. Col. David A. Gruss, Marine Forces Europe/JMRC liaison officer and Houston native, the sticks training served as a warm up for the Georgians going into the FINEX.

“Aside from providing initial assessment information, the sticks allowed for teaching opportunities to cover some of the key training points that will be tested during the FINEX.” Gruss said.

According to Gruss, the FINEX is setup to simulate a 72-hour war where the Georgians will execute an operation order that focuses on four key enabler mission sets: operations against anti-coalition forces, development of Afghan National Security Forces, development of government institutions, and infrastructure and economic development.

After the initial 72-hours, the FINEX will briefly pause for a mid-action review, and then will start over with another 72-hour evolution, according to Gruss.

Throughout the whole evolution, opposition forces simulating the Taliban will continually attempt to thwart the Georgian attempts to complete the enabler objectives.

The FINEX is slated to begin January 22.

Any media interested in covering the events of the FINEX or any aspect of the Georgian Deployment Program should contact Marine Forces Europe Public Affairs at

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