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Guard unit training in Tbilisi

COVINGTON - Three hundred Georgia National Guardsmen, including those based at the Covington unit, have arrived in Tbilisi, the capital of the nation of Georgia, for a three-week training exercise.

Soldiers and Marines from the United States, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Ukraine will conduct the joint training exercise Immediate Response 2008 at Vaziani Military Base and in the surrounding area.

The state of Georgia will be represented by the National Guard's 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, headquartered in Winder.

The exercise is an annual bilateral security cooperation exercise conducted between the U.S., NATO and coalition partners. A longstanding Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed exercise focused on interoperability training and theater security cooperation, it is designed to promote understanding and cooperation between military forces of the United States and its allies.

The joint training will include marksmanship, patrolling and combat lifesaving exercises, and will in part help prepare Guardsmen for their deployment to Afghanistan.

More than 130 soldiers with Company B, 1-121st Infantry of the 48th Brigade, based at the armory in Covington, will deploy in summer 2009. The soldiers are part of a much larger contingent of 7,000 troops from the 48th and 53rd Brigade Combat Teams that will help train Afghan National Security Forces.

"This is a good opportunity in which we can work with other nations in the field. It all has to do with the global war on terror. That's what this is all about," said Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski of the training exercise.

"We have maintained a relationship with the nation of Georgia for quite some time. This is part of one specialized exercise. However, our relationship with the nation of Georgia has been in place for many, many years, so this is an ongoing activity," he said, adding that National Guardsmen have been stationed in Georgia with the task of helping the nation establish a similar homeland security operation.

Sergeants from various countries will train together on the challenges of being non-commissioned officers.

"The training will be a great developmental opportunity for the Republic of Georgia, because they have a young NCO corps, and they stand to learn a lot from our NCOs," said Maj. Matthew Smith of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry.

"It's also a great opportunity for our NCOs, because they'll learn how to work with foreign counterparts and learn the cultures and customs of our allies," added Commander Sgt. Maj. Calvin Wilcox.

The nation of Georgia has provided consistent support to coalition Global War on Terrorism operations and is the third largest force contributor to Operation Iraqi Freedom, behind the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.