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GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — A group of Joint Multinational Training Command personnel are in the former Soviet republic of Georgia to finish training a brigade of Georgian soldiers for duty in Iraq.

The personnel, from Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels, boarded a Georgia-bound C-130 transport along with their equipment and flew out of Grafenwöhr Army Airfield on Tuesday morning.

Leading the group of about 20 soldiers was Lt. Col. Craig Jones, 42, of Homer, Alaska, commander of the Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program II.

The program, which started in 2003 and includes 60 U.S. trainers and support personnel, has helped train several battalions of Georgian troops for duty in Iraq, he said.

Each training rotation begins and ends with a traditional Georgian meal, called a supra, that includes multiple courses and countless toasts, he said.

The first Georgian battalion trained by Jones’ task force, the 31st Battalion, is already serving in Baqouba, Iraq. Another battalion trained by the task force, the 33rd Battalion, is on its way to Baghdad, while the 32nd Battalion, which starts training this month, will replace the 31st in Baqouba, he said.

One of the JMTC members headed for Georgia, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Craig, 39, of Big Rapids, Mich., said about 600 Georgian light infantrymen will train with the Americans this month.

The Headquarters and Headquarters Company JMTC personnel chief said he spent six months in Georgia last year.

“Georgia is a lot different [from] Germany. It is a country in transition from Soviet times. It is the same with their military, but they are good to work with and they like our leadership,” he said.

When the U.S. personnel are not training the Georgians, they have time to check out the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, which is about 20 miles from their main base at the Krtsisi training area, Craig said.

“You can still see old Soviet buildings. One training area is an old Russian MiG (jet fighter) base. There are 80 to 100 MiG bunkers and you can imagine what it was like 20 to 30 years ago when the Soviets were still in power,” said Craig, who trained to fight the Soviets when he joined the military 16 years ago.

Another member of the training team, Capt. Terry Howell, of Mobile, Ala., said he’d be training Georgian officers to command companies.

“We teach them military operations in urban terrain, marksmanship and convoy operations. The only struggle is the language barrier, but we have translators,” added the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment soldier.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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