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Refugees from line up to register at a displaced persons center center in a school in Tbilisi, Georgia on Aug. 17.

Refugees from line up to register at a displaced persons center center in a school in Tbilisi, Georgia on Aug. 17. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Refugees from line up to register at a displaced persons center center in a school in Tbilisi, Georgia on Aug. 17.

Refugees from line up to register at a displaced persons center center in a school in Tbilisi, Georgia on Aug. 17. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Cargo on a Ramstein Air Base, Germany-based C-130 Hercules is unloaded in Tbilisi, Georgia on Aug. 17. The U.S. Air Force delivered humanitarian aid to the Georgian capital in response to the crisis in the country.

Cargo on a Ramstein Air Base, Germany-based C-130 Hercules is unloaded in Tbilisi, Georgia on Aug. 17. The U.S. Air Force delivered humanitarian aid to the Georgian capital in response to the crisis in the country. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The humanitarian emergency in Georgia has subsided, according to the general in charge of the U.S. military’s humanitarian relief effort.

Army Brig. Gen. Jon Miller, commander of the European Command Joint Assessment Team, led the military’s role in the Georgian humanitarian support mission. Miller, who arrived in Georgia on Aug. 18, returned to Kaiserslautern on Wednesday.

"Now there’s a more difficult, longer-term problem, and that is what you do with 30,000 potentially permanently displaced people – people who cannot go home because there’s no home to go to or cannot go home because their area is now occupied," said Miller, who serves as the deputy commander of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command and commander of the newly renamed 7th Civil Support Command. The Georgian government is addressing the issue, he said.

Hostilities between Russia and Georgia began in early August when Georgia used its military in an attempt to regain control of the Russian-supported enclave of South Ossetia. Russian forces dealt Georgia a severe blow in a counterattack, and Russia has since recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region in Georgia, as independent countries. The conflict displaced between 20,000 and 30,000 Georgians.

Although it was once mentioned as a possibility, the U.S. team did not provide any military assistance to the Georgians. It focused solely on humanitarian assistance, Miller said.

The general used the words "absurd" and "laughable" to describe Russian comments that U.S. ships delivering humanitarian supplies were also providing military equipment to Georgia.

"[The Russians] had the visibility of everything we were doing," said Command Sgt. Maj. David Stading, of the 7th Civil Support Command. "We didn’t do anything discreetly or covertly."

The situation in Georgia was "quite dire and life-sustaining steps were absolutely essential" when Miller first arrived, he said. Georgians had been forced out of their homes with their possessions on their backs. Anxiety was high among the displaced. Would they ever be able to go home? Would the Russians overrun Tbilisi?

In the first days of the U.S. military’s arrival, it was clear that the senior Georgian officials hadn’t slept and were stressed, Miller said. One of the ministers said he had kissed his wife and children goodbye, not knowing if he’d ever see them again, Miller said.

"The last night we were there we had a dinner, and a number of the senior government officials came to that dinner and expressed their personal appreciation and said that it was the American president on television, it was the presence of our humanitarian-assistance soldiers that gave them some feeling of security and knowledge that everything could be OK," he said.

At its peak, the team Miller led had about 100 U.S. troops, with the majority being soldiers. All branches of the U.S. military participated in the effort.

Air Force C-130s from Ramstein Air Base delivered cots, hygiene kits and food daily to Tbilisi airport. Air Force Col. Mark Hering, who normally serves as the deputy commander of the 603rd Air Operations Center at Ramstein Air Base, was deputy commander of the EUCOM Joint Assessment Team.

Navy and Coast Guard ships ferried similar supplies and bottled water to Georgian ports.

As tensions decreased, conditions on the ground improved, Miller said.

"It’s important to understand we weren’t the white knights who rode in and saved the day by ourselves – far from it," he said. "The U.S. Agency for International Development was integrated within the international relief community, and the Georgian government identified what requirements were necessary — we need this amount of food here, we need that amount of food there, we need cots, we need whatever."

The requests came in through USAID, which asked the military to bring in what was needed, Miller said. "And so, we were, frankly, the muscle behind it," he said.

The U.S. military provided more than 500,000 Meals, Ready to eat and humanitarian daily rations, 8,000 cots, 20,000 sleeping bags and 25,000 hygiene kits, Miller said.

"Our soldiers knew that what they were doing on one hand made them feel good as a human – that they were helping to relieve human suffering – but on the other hand, they felt that what they were doing was a very important brick in the wall, if you will, of what it takes to maintain freedom," he said.


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