As a military-minded sort of chap, I’m always fascinated by the differences from what I was taught during my brief career and the training foreign soldiers undertook. Since this blog is focused around my activities in Georgia (let’s face it, I don’t do anything anywhere else), we’ll be looking at the Georgian Army, specifically their training and structure. To those of you who aren’t interested…you’ll just have to cope.
Unlike most modern armies, the Georgian Army is divided into three; the Regulars, National Guard (weekend soldiers) and Reserve Army (conscripts). But the differences don’t end there.
Britain’s military is divided into Regulars and Reserves. For the Army, the Regulars number around 100, 000 and the Reserves around 40, 000. The thing is, the part-timers are trained to exactly the same standards as their Regular colleagues, with the same equipment, uniforms, etc. And they’re bloody good, too. Hell, we have Reserve units for everything. Every Corps in the Army, but also for the elite Parachute Regiment, Royal Marines Commando and even the Special Air Service.
The size of the Regular Georgian Army is around 40, 000, but what I find shocking is that their weekenders are only 500 men strong. Georgia’s military faith is instead placed, should the need arise, in the conscript force of the Reserve Army. To me, that seems a little dim. Here’s why.
First off, not everyone is cut out to be a soldier. You have to develop a high standard of physical fitness to carry your whole life on your back over months of intense training, a tolerance to the discomfort of living in the field for weeks at a time in various weather conditions, proficiency with your rifle, and above anything, a thick skin. People used to ask me, why do military instructors scream and shout all the time? Simple: if you can’t take that, how on earth are you going to cope with enemy rounds slapping into the ground around you, or RPGs whistling over your head?
The Georgian Reserve force trains its men for 21 days. You can’t learn a lot in 21 days. Let’s go back to some of the points I just listed off. My friend Eduard did his 21 days service last year, in the summer. Officially, he is now combat-ready. First problem; he undertook his training in the extreme heat of July/August, and would be completely unprepared for any kind of action in the winter. It makes a hell of a difference, believe me. Secondly, he is a lovely, kind-hearted family man, and I can’t think of anyone more unsuitable to front-line duty, or anything more criminal than taking a man from his wife and children just to stand in line, unprepared, unwilling and untrained, in front of a Russian tank. Surely the point of having a military is that the soldiers fight so civilians don’t have to?
Another important thing to consider is that the Reserve forces are all being issued with the Soviet AK assault rifle. A fine weapon, if used in the right hands. The Regulars, however, have been equipped with a myriad of new and fancy Western firearms. For the most part they’re American-made M4s, but there’s a host of Israeli, German and Austrian weapons being imported as well. Why? It’s not Call of Duty, you know. You don’t unlock new guns the more you use the old ones.
The fact is firearms are like people; everyone is different. Sure, there are similarities. Everyone has two eyes, a nose and a mouth, and every gun will have a trigger, barrel and firing pin. But even if we just look at the AK and the M4, the differences are vast. One fires the larger 7.62 bullet, the other the NATO 5.56. That’s already a pretty big difference in recoil. There’s no need to get technical here, but suffice to say if you’ve been trained all your life on an AK, the transition to something else won’t be instantaneous.
A friend of mine, Lasha, was a part-time Georgian soldier for two years and loved it, but was always frustrated the training was never really tough enough, his father having served in Spetsnaz during the Soviet Days. In 2008 when the Russians attacked, he dutifully reported for duty to collect his gear. He was told his uniform was ‘somewhere’ and he was given an AK47 with no bullets because he ‘wouldn’t need them’. Now, this was a time when the nation was under attack. I can understand military apathy to the Afghan war, a war that it’s arguable they shouldn’t be involved in, but an invasion from an opponent the size of Russia? A real sense of urgency is needed, to say the damned least. The establishment needs shaking to its core.
I met some United States Marines here in 2010 who were here training the Georgian Army, and since I was in the Army at the time we had a good long chat. I was quite impressed, truth be told. The United States Marine Corps always reminded us a lot of the British Army; carry what you need on your back, rely on yourself and the men around you, since its bloody stupid to count on hordes of backup artillery and tanks. I love that way of thinking, it makes the individual rifleman almost unstoppable.
The Marines told me they were struggling to teach the Georgians because they’d previously been taught by some members of the US Army. If you don’t know, the US Army is a very different beast to its Marine Corps cousin. Far more static, dependent on massive artillery, tank and air support, it’s a lumbering and heavy sledgehammer rather than the precision blade of the Marines (note: I appreciate the Green Berets and Rangers are an exception). So the poor Georgians had been taught by the US Army for a year, being trained in the same way those troops had, namely a manner that relies on heavy support the Georgians don’t have. The things those USMC lads were teaching them however seemed innovative and professional.
Actually, let’s talk a little more about the Americans here, because I was reading on Neal’s blog the other he’s rather anti-soldiers after hearing a lot of stories about US troops killing Afghan civilians. The most terrible thing is it’s all true. Every tragedy has its root, however, and I might have some insight others don’t.
I hope I’ve adequately shown here so far that the US military is such a massive behemoth that the differences within the thing are vast. Not just between the USMC and Army, either. One thing that really sticks in my mind is the following: America, unlike Britain, doesn’t have universal healthcare, so a lot of people enlist in the National Guard to get the benefit of free dental and healthcare. From what we heard from US troops come to visit us, a lot of them never even expected to be deployed. I can’t imagine anything worse than Bubba and Cleytus from the Alabama trailer park (not known as breeding grounds of cultural education and religious tolerance) being let loose on patrol around Kandahar, where sensitivity to the Muslim community is really the only chance for success in that wretched war. These are people who think ‘Taliban’ and ‘Al-Qaeda’ means the same thing as ‘Muslim’.
Another thing I don’t understand is why the Americans send their troops away for tours of duty that last 12 months. The size of the US Army is close to a million, the US Marines about 200, 000. The British Army, with the tiny Royal Marines, has a fighting force of about 150, 000 and we only send our men away for 6 months. It’s a strain, but we seemingly don’t have the problems (at least in numbers) of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that American servicemen do. But anyway, if you signed up for the dental care, got sent away to Afghanistan and are from some backwater part of America where ‘foreign’ is anyone from the other side of the street…it’s no wonder these tragedies happen. These people simply should not be let loose on the Afghan population. Instead, they should be given menial duties guarding the bases where almost everyone is from their own or an allied country, they can go home after the year with a medal and have people call them ‘heroes’.
Anyway, let’s get back to Georgia and wrap this up, but that’s something I thought we should mention. The Georgian Regular Army is an effective machine, full of well-trained and capable soldiers, so what I’d like to see happen to the Army is this: get rid of the useless conscription service, and pump the numbers up of the part-timers, and have them trained by the Regulars. In Britain, the Reserve forces are trained once a weeknight in a ‘regional training centre’ (RTCs are small, fenced off building complexes in major cities or towns) and then taken one weekend a month to a major base to receive proper training. Every year, they do a two-week camp in the winter or summer. If they’re deployed, they’re temporarily activated as regular soldiers.
I’ve seen so many abandoned or demolished building sites in Tbilisi that would be perfect for an RTC. With the promise of pay from not overly (at least time-wise) demanding work, why doesn’t the Georgian military abandon the outdated Soviet model and adopt my awesome system? Well, I don’t know either, but when I run for President, it’ll be one of the main points of my campaign. That, and the invasion of Switzerland.