By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 27, 2008 - A training exercise in the country of Georgia is helping partner nations overcome language and cultural barriers to work together more effectively in combat situations, a U.S. official said. Exercise Immediate Response 2008, taking place outside the city of Tblisi, Georgia, has united forces from several nations to participate in small arms, combat lifesaver, and situational training exercises. Countries involved include the United States, Georgia, 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," U.S. Army Maj. Matthew Smith, commander of 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, told online journalists and bloggers July 24 via teleconference from the country of Georgia.
The 121st Infantry Regiment, which belongs to the Army National Guard, has been involved with the exercise since July 14 and will return home to Atlanta, Ga., on August 2. The experience is preparing them to deploy to Afghanistan next year, Smith said.
"We're basically focused on getting us ready to go to Afghanistan," he said. "So, we're focused at the fire-team level and just trying to get the...foundation built, if you will, for upcoming stuff that will take place over the next year."
Smith explained that the training is mainly preparation for small-arms combat operations and some civic engagement. "We use contemporary operating environment scenarios, where they might encounter improvised explosives (or) conduct some sort of civic engagement with a mayor or other leader," he said.
Counterparts from different nations work together during the exercises, which Smith said is strengthening the relationships among coalition partners and proving to be valuable practice working through language barriers.
"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."
For example, he said Georgian and U.S. soldiers are teamed in combat training for engaging targets and basic medical skills for sustaining life until medics arrive.
"One of the most amazing things that I have seen to date is just watching the soldiers figure out how to communicate, regardless of the presence of an interpreter," he said.
Smith said the language barrier is actually adding value to the training experience for his battalion, rather than deterring from it. "It also exposes some of our own challenges in dealing with another force besides English-speaking forces, which our battalion will likely have to do downrange," he said.
"The other aspect of it is that Georgians, when they're operating as part of the coalition in Iraq, they'll be dealing with American soldiers on a daily basis," Smith added. "So, I think just across the board, it will help 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," Smith said. "And this has been great preparation for that – great preparation for the battalion's mission to Afghanistan next year."
(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of the Defense Media Agency.)