TBILISI, Georgia -- U.S. Marines recently arrived in the country of Georgia to participate in a program designed to train and equip selected units of the Georgian military. The Georgian Train and Equip Program (GTEP) will have U.S. Marines in Georgia for more than a year.
"The program is a coordinated effort between the governments of the United States and Georgia to provide a higher degree of protection and stability to the citizens of Georgia and the region," said Marine Corps Maj. Scott Campbell, Task Force GTEP commander.
In recent years the government of Georgia has been criticized by the government of Russia for not properly protecting its borders and allowing Chechen rebels to flee into the Pankisi Gorge area in northern Georgia. Russia considers the Chechen rebels to be terrorists and wants the government of Georgia to play a more active role in deterring the rebels from entering a safe haven.
President Eduard Shevardnadze, the president of Georgia, requested assistance from the United States to enhance its counter-terrorism capabilities and address the situation in the Pankisi Gorge. In April of 2002, the Department of Defense announced the beginning of the Georgia Train and Equip Program to fulfill Shevranadze's request.
The Marines are scheduled to train a total of 4 battalion-sized elements during the entire training evolution. Each battalion will receive instruction in a specific area of training. The first battalion will receive instruction in mountain warfare operations, the second and third battalions in light infantry operations, and the fourth battalion will receive training in mechanized warfare.
Each battalion is similar to a Marine Corps rifle battalion and is comprised of 3 rifle companies, a headquarters company, and consists of about 560 personnel. A common factor to all of the battalions is that they have recently been created and have not received substantial infantry training.
Coordinating the unique training effort is Marine Gunner, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jon Athey, battalion gunner who is deployed from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
"Our mission is to train the Georgian 16th Mountain Battalion in small arms usage, weapons and tactics, and basic infantry tactics that they can use in mountainous terrain," said Athey.
Four Marine trainers consisting of a lieutenant, a Staff NCO, and two NCOs will be assigned to each Georgian company. Daily training will follow an established POI (program of instruction) and the three teams of Marine trainers are directly responsible for their designated companies, said Athey.
Another unique aspect of the training syllabus is "for the first time we are taking a fighting force trained in the Soviet doctrine with Soviet weapons and are teaching them our tactics," said Athey.
Prior to arriving in Georgia, the Marine cadre spent time with Special Forces at Fort Bragg, N.C. to get familiar with the weapons they will be instructing with. Once the Marines arrived in Georgia, they conducted familiarization fires with all of the weapons to be used in the training process.
The Marine detachment and Task Force GTEP personnel are operating from a base camp 25 kilometers from the Georgian capital of Tiblisi. The joint operation also includes forces from the U.S. European command. A Forward Surgical Team from the U.S. Army is on hand to provide medical support as required and a detachment of communication soldiers from the U.S. Army's 7th Signal Brigade is participating in the operation.
Nestled near the Ioguja Mountain which resembles the mountains in Camp Pendleton, the Marines are preparing to start the training program with an opening ceremony taking place February 1.
The GTEP program is a U.S. European Command sponsored operation and is scheduled to end during the summer of 2004. More information about GTEP can be found on the European Command website WWW.EUCOM.MIL, click on the operations link.