United States troops trained Georgian
troops up to just days before Georgia’s
invasion of South Ossetia
Georgian [USA] boy helped train Georgian troops;
Soldier returned home just days before invasion
Milledgeville, Georgia [USA]
August 20, 2008
As a member of the Georgia Army National Guard and the 1st Battalion,
121st Infantry Regiment, 1st Lt. Paul Bollinger has become used to
dealing with danger and working in combat situations.
As a member of the Georgia Army National Guard and the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, 1st Lt. Paul Bollinger has become used to dealing with danger and working in combat situations.
Normally found working behind the counter as manager of The Goodie Gallery, Bollinger recently traded in the doughnuts, cakes, pies and sandwiches he works with each day for a camouflage uniform and combat rations as he and others trained troops in the country of Georgia in combat operations.
“I was the executive officer. I was involved in a lot of the logistical work,” Bollinger said.
Local members of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment left the state of Georgia July 8, and spent more than three weeks in the country of Georgia working closely with native troops in teaching them various combat techniques for defensive purposes, according to Bollinger.
“We trained their armed forces in basic infantry tactics and techniques, and weapons handling. They learned individual weapon handling, proper use of weapons, individual operations and buddy team techniques — all while using live ammunition on a live ammunition training field,” Bollinger said.
Just a few days after the 121st Infantry Regiment returned, the techniques taught to troops in Georgia were used in actual combat situations when a move by Georgia into South Ossetia, a disputed province, was responded to by Russian armed forces.
Some of the same ground where Bollinger and his fellow National Guardsmen had stood less than 72 hours before was soon littered with bullet fragments and the imprints of tank treads as both sides clashed over territory.
“I don’t feel as if it was a close call because the Georgians are our allies, and there had already been attention to that area. My understanding is Georgia went in with force to take back a region, and Russia simply reacted. If we had still been there, I don’t think there would have been as much of a military force. I know the air base we were at was damaged,” Bollinger said.
The state of Georgia and the country of Georgia have had a long-standing, positive relationship between the two ‘cousins in name’ for more than two decades.
Besides the United States, other countries participating in the training included the Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
“The overall purpose of the operation is to build cooperation in the region and teach everyone involved how to work better with their coalition partners,” Georgia Guard Maj. Matthew Smith, commander 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, said in a press release available through the Georgia Department of Defense’s Web site.
“It’s been great watching these teams develop,” Smith said. “After just a couple days, they’re up and running, looking like they’ve been training together for several years (and) learning from each other both tactically (and) culturally. One of the most amazing things that I saw was just watching the soldiers figure out how to communicate, regardless of the presence of an interpreter.”
Though soldiers such as Bollinger are now back home and in the safety of their units and families, many of those interpreters are still being used through e-mail as Bollinger and others attempt to discover the fate of friends made overseas and left behind after training was completed.
“I just read an article this morning where the company commander of the guys we were working with was killed. I also heard that supposedly seven of the guys from the battalion we worked with were injured, and I know the chow hall was bombed, which also resulted in some minor injuries,” Bollinger said. “I’ve definitely got concerned in that I’m hoping that everyone is OK. You hate to hear about what’s going on. I’ve got friends over there. Now, I’m going to have to try to find out if the commander who died was who I was working with. Most of those guys didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Georgian, so we had to use interpreters.”
Thus far, e-mails and Web sites such as Myspace.com and Facebook.com are helping those in Georgia to communicate with their newly-found friends overseas, according to Bollinger.
Despite the continuing chaos and carefully created cease-fires, Bollinger said he would still return to Georgia if given the opportunity.
“I’d go back in a heartbeat. I really enjoyed it. It’s a very pretty country, and they all love the U.S. over there,” Bollinger said.
The hands-on training by Georgia National Guard soldiers will also benefit the soldiers next year when many of them, Bollinger included, prepare to return to Afghanistan for active duty.
“Another aspect of it was that Georgians, when they’re operating as part of the coalition in Iraq, will be dealing with American soldiers on a daily basis,” Smith said. “So, I think just across the board, it helps strengthen both parties for future operations. I think no matter where we as U.S. forces go in the world, we’re going to have to learn to work better with other forces, who may not share our language or culture, and this has been great preparation for that [and] great preparation for the battalion’s mission to Afghanistan next year.”
Tuesday the Associated Press reported that Russia and Georgia exchanged 20 prisoners of war in an effort to reduce tensions.
Two Russian military helicopters landed in Igoeti, where Georgian Security Council head Alexander Lomaia told reporters that 15 Georgians and five Russians were exchanged, according to the AP.
The AP also reported that a small column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles were witnessed leaving the strategic city of Gori in the first sign of a Russian pullback of troops from Georgia after a recent cease-fire that was announced with the intention to end fighting.