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U.S. Marines observe, train Georgia's 33rd Light Infantry Battlion during Georgia Deployment Program

US Marine Corps News

By Sgt. Matt Lyman, Marine Forces Europe

HOHENFELS, Germany, (Feb. 20, 2011) -- In August 2009, the Republic of Georgia joined forces with International Security Assistance Forces and ramped up a battalion of soldiers to aid the fight in Afghanistan. This marked the start of the Georgia Deployment Program. The first unit was the 31st Light Infantry Battalion, 32nd is serving in Helmand Province now and the 33rd is preparing to replace them.

These enthusiastic soldiers share more in common than country of origin and their desire to contribute on a large scale to the conflict in Afghanistan. Their common thread is they were all trained by United States Marines participating in the GDP, a two–year, time-phased program, which prepares four battalions- one every six months- to be able to integrate with ISAF in Afghanistan in a counterinsurgency environment.

The 33rd battalion is entering their last phase of training at the Joint Multinational Training Center facility here, before heading off to Afghanistan this spring.

“What we’ve done is a basic training package, a 6-month training package,” explained Lt. Col. Daniel Thoele, executive officer for Marine Corps Training and Advisory Group. The basic skills are focused on in the beginning of the training, skills like marksmanship, patrolling and land navigation. All of these individual skills are put together and applied at the squad, platoon, company and eventually at the battalion level, explained Thoele.

The Georgian soldiers have trained in every type of counterinsurgency warfare since coming under the tutelage of their Marine instructors and are implementing the newly learned tactics in preparation for their deployment.

“There’s no doubt that these guys are a professional fighting force. They’re very well disciplined,” said 1st Lt. Michael Iaquinto, Marine Corps Observer/Trainer, 3rd Bn, 7th Marine Regiment.

This training was developed with direct input from lessons learned by Marines in Afghanistan, these lessons will ensure the 33rd becomes a formidable force against the insurgency and mitigate any unnecessary loss of life.

In some instances the Marines learned battlefield lessons the hard way in Afghanistan and they’re hoping their mentorship will give the Georgian army an advantage they didn’t have when the conflict began almost eight years ago.

During this iteration of training the Georgian soldiers were given a scenario mirrored from missions conducted by ISAF in Afghanistan – and told to write up an operations order.

Before the mission, the soldiers worked up a terrain model, briefed their commander, pulled all their assets together and stepped off. A main focus of this scenario was not only to accomplish the objective of the patrol, but to empower the squad leaders and give them the tools to make split-second decisions that have a direct effect on the outcome of the mission.

“They’re very engaged and they very much want to come out the Soviet model which is a sort of very centralized, top-heavy command,” said Iaquinto. “So, getting junior officers and non-commissioned officers involved and getting them making decisions and taking initiative I think is the most rewarding part.”

The different squads were each responsible for a sector surrounding a small mock Afghani village.

Using tactics taught by Marine observer/controllers, the soldiers fluidly transitioned between tactical formations as the terrain dictated and started hitting their checkpoints.

Before they were halfway done with the movement they came under heavy machine gun fire from an unknown number of insurgents. Their muscle memory took over and they all dove for cover and assessed the situation. They had one injured and because of the terrain they were unable to flank the insurgents. They quickly looked at their options and opted to have their notional air support come into play. The soldiers radioed their position up to the notional AH-64 Apache helicopters providing air support and in seconds it was over with five enemies killed and only one Georgian notionally injured.

A casualty evacuation was radioed in for the notionally-injured Georgian and a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was dispatched from the local medical unit stationed here.

After a short after-action discussion, training was done for the day and the 33rd was released to their tents until the next day.

The interoperability aspect of the GDP not only gives the Georgian Army state-of-the-art training, but it allows Marines the opportunity to pass on their experiences and gain exposure to other countries’ tactics and battlefield understanding, which in-turn makes our Marines more informed combatants.

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