TBILISI, Georgia --
Georgian Defence Forces invited U.S. Marines and Soldiers to participate alongside them in the country’s Independence Day celebration at Freedom Square on May 26, 2021.
During the celebration, Georgian and American platoons marched through the square, each carrying a country or unit flag in commemoration of Georgia’s first Independence Day in 1918. This is also the country’s 30th year as a free and independent nation since its separation from the former Soviet Union.
The Georgian Defence Forces showed off their military prowess and dedication by sporting a variety of tactical gear and precise drill movements. Several platoons of Georgian recruits also recited an oath of enlistment in front of the Georgian president, their American partners, and hundreds of their fellow citizens who came to show their support.
Georgian pilots flew jets overhead with contrails the colors of the Georgian flag while Georgian and American military vehicles were staged in a static display around Freedom Square for all to see.
Servicemembers saluted the Georgian flag and reflected during a moment of silence for Georgia’s fallen soldiers.
“Today is a very important day for the whole nation, but mostly for the defense forces because we fight for this independence,” said Georgian Colonel Grigol Chelidze, head of the Operations Planning Department of the Georgian Defence Forces General Staff.
“Building our defense forces and guaranteeing the country’s security with the military is happening together with a very strategic relationship with the U.S. armed forces.”
The U.S. Army, and especially the U.S. Marines have a longstanding relationship with Georgia. For the past 17 years, Marines and Georgians with the Georgia Deployment Program (GDP) have trained and fought side-by-side during multinational combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marines currently deployed to Georgia with the GDP arrived in country this past February with the intention to provide another rotation’s worth of training and assistance to a Georgian infantry battalion preparing to support NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
However, American President Joe Biden’s announcement earlier this year to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan acted as a catalyst to sunset the GDP. Despite the program coming to an end, the 17 years’ worth of personal connections built between servicemembers from Georgia and the U.S. cannot be erased.
“There’s this bond between the Marine Corps and Georgian Defence Forces that is probably one of the strongest the Marine Corps has had in its history of security cooperation,” said U.S. Marine Corps Major Lee J. Mersek, a regional planner with Marine Corps Security Cooperation Group and a GDP alumnus.
“Both parties got a lot out of each other and there has been a genuine dedication.”
Mersek, who participated in the GDP several years ago, still remembers his Georgian counterpart, a man he invited to his wedding, fondly.
“The Georgians are a tough hearty bunch,” he said. “They don’t just call somebody a brother for the convenience. They truly mean it and there have been a lot of Marines who have earned the title ‘brother.’”
Of the connection between U.S. and Georgian servicemembers Chelidze said, “we hope to continue this type of positive military-to-military relationship of brotherhood and camaraderie in the future.”