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NEWS | July 6, 2011

Georgia Guard members mentor state partners in emergency preparedness exercise

By the Georgia National Guard

TBILISI, Georgia - Georgia National Guard members served here as advisors and trainers June 23 in Shared Horizons 11, the first in a new series of emergency exercises in the country of Georgia.

This is just the latest in a long series of engagements conducted over the 16-year partnership between the nation and the state of Georgia.

Growing out of the State Department's Partnerships for Peace program, the National Guard's State Partnership Program reflects an evolving international affairs mission for the Guard that emphasizes its unique state-federal and civil-military characteristics.

"The country of Georgia and the state of Georgia had an ongoing relationship prior to the SPP, so it was a natural fit," said Army Sgt. Maj. Lance Rygmyr, State Partnership Program coordinator for the Georgia National Guard.

"The state of Georgia has partnered with the country of Georgia on many initiatives throughout the years - not only disaster response, but also in training and helping the Georgians augment their participation in Iraq and Afghanistan."

A bilateral emergency tabletop response exercise, Shared Horizons 11 is designed to test the country's National Response Plan as it relates to cooperation between the Georgian Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Internal Affairs in domestic emergency response.

"The exercise was planned well. My assessment is very positive," said Irakli Khadagidze, director of the emergency management department of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

"This is valuable training for us, because there are so many emergencies in our country and natural disasters, so it's very important for us (to be prepared), and this is a very good experience for our personnel."

An important aspect of the exercise is to encourage and enable the two ministries - roughly analogous to the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security - to work together more efficiently.

"A lot of former Soviet Bloc countries have issues sometimes with the stovepipe nature of their ministries, the way they work and cooperate and communicate," Rygmyr said. "So this really is a great moment because we have all these agencies and all these plans written to augment a centralized National Response Plan, working together in a cohesive effort for emergency management and disaster response."

The tabletop exercise uses laptop computers and a local e-mail system to simulate the communications, coordination and tasking necessary to respond to an emergency. The scenario unfolds through a series of injects, which are messages to various ministries and contacts, including situation reports from the field, updates from outside agencies, and even simulated media inquiries. Participants then must respond appropriately - for example, by publishing a press release - within the guidelines of the scenario.

"This is all about building partner capacity," said United Kingdom Lt. Col. Steve Hunt, British exchange officer to U.S. European Command plans and operations. "The more robust we make our partners, the more robust we make the regions, the less the U.S. will have to be committed."

A special area of interest for the exercise was strategic communications, which involves coordinated response to events through the media, internal communications and even the tasks assigned to units in an emergency.

A former Soviet Republic, Georgia has a culture of response that is more controlled and limited than its Western counterparts. On hand to help introduce and teach concepts of strategic communications to the Georgians were officers of the 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Georgia Army National Guard.

"The Georgia National Guard is proud to have worked closely with our counterparts for sixteen years now, as part of the State Partnership Program," said Army Brig. Gen. Larry Dudney, director of the Joint Staff, Georgia National Guard. "Our enduring relationship with Georgia affords us the opportunity to build lasting trust, which allows us to lend our experience and expertise in many areas."