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U.S. Marine Cpl. Justin Allen talks with a Georgian soldier during a break Tuesday during a training exercise outside of Tbilisi, Georgia. Allen has learned enough Georgian to speak simple sentences and has acquired a nickname among the members of the platoon he oversees.
U.S. Marine Cpl. Justin Allen talks with a Georgian soldier during a break Tuesday during a training exercise outside of Tbilisi, Georgia. Allen has learned enough Georgian to speak simple sentences and has acquired a nickname among the members of the platoon he oversees. (Russ Rizzo / S&S)

KRTSANISI NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER, Georgia — When asked to describe the Americans he has met during training here, Roman Kharchilava is quick to point out their kindness and generosity.

“I will be happy to see them again,” the 26-year-old Georgian army sergeant says during a break from digging a defensive position in the Georgian countryside.

Next to him, 22-year-old U.S. Marine Cpl. Justin Allen offers a hand in Kharchilava’s direction and says “madloba,” which is Georgian for “thank you.”

During his few months training a squad of Georgian soldiers, Allen, with the Marine Forces Europe, has picked up some of the language. Enough so that on the days the translators are in short supply, he says, he manages fine with another language-savvy Marine and hand gestures.

Allen has nicknames for some of the Georgian soldiers under his watch. Senior Sgt. Misha Margalitadze is “Rock Star,” because he does everything well. In turn, Allen has developed a nickname among the Georgians. They call him “Batibuti,” or “popcorn,” because a woman at a movie theater mistakenly called him that in broken English when asking him if he was hungry.

There are more intimate examples of the new relationships being formed between the American soldiers and local Georgians.

In the three years since training began, two Marines have married Georgians. Others take regular piano lessons from a local teacher.

Many others have been invited into the homes of soldiers for “supras,” Georgian celebrations that feature many courses of traditional cuisine such as grilled pork and beef and pizza made with cottage cheese.

As usual in this country, the wine and liquor readily flows at these celebrations, soldiers say.

“They try to kill our livers,” says Col. Jason Richter, who helps coordinate training.

The relationships are an important part of the military’s efforts in the country, organizers say, because they will last even when the donated trucks wear out and the Georgians become skilled enough to learn infantry tactics on their own.

For their part, the Georgians say they have enjoyed living among Americans.

“And sometimes we don’t need translators,” says Margalitadze, the “Rock Star.”

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