MARIETTA, Ga. - The nation of Georgia is perhaps best known (if it is known at all) by those in the state of Georgia for its 2008 military conflict with Russia in South Ossetia or from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was tragically killed during a training run hours before the opening ceremony.
And while Tbilisi and Atlanta may be worlds apart, literally and figuratively, Citizen-Soldiers of both Georgia capitals have been working together for a decade and a half in a bilateral, military-to-military contact program known as the State Partnership Program.
The National Guard State Partnership Program was established in 1993 in response to the radically changed political-military situation following the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
The SPP was established to engage the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and is now a key security cooperation tool - facilitating interaction in all aspects of civil-military cooperation in that area.
The Georgia National Guard has maintained a strong State Partnership program with the country of Georgia since 1995 - a program which has helped position the state of Georgia as the home of the second-largest diaspora of Georgians outside the country of Georgia.
Many National Guard members are also active in the Atlanta-Tbilisi Sister City Committee, which contributes to building relationships between our state and their nation.
Through the SPP, the State of Georgia benefits by being able to play a role in overall U.S. security assistance and foreign policy initiatives.
The state's employers also benefit from the extensive experience their Guard employees procure while working with the country of Georgia on a variety of missions.
Since 1995, the nation of Georgia has put itself on the path of acceptance into NATO - thanks, in no small part, to the State Partnership Program.
Suffice it to say, the National Guard's relationship with the nation of Georgia has had a local and political impact that reaches beyond the battlefield. But the contributions of the Georgian Armed Forces to the War on Terror are not to be understated.
In 2010, the Georgia National Guard helped train over 2,000 Georgian Soldiers. It is worth noting that embedded Georgia National Guard Soldiers have fought side-by-side with Georgian Soldiers in Iraq. In fact, the country of Georgia is the third largest contributor of coalition forces currently in Iraq.
The Georgian Armed Forces are currently providing one battalion to the coalition forces in Afghanistan with an additional battalion in training. The State of Georgia also supports the U.S. Marine Corps as they train additional Georgian battalions for combat in Afghanistan.
In fact, I recently had the privilege of visiting those Georgia Guard members currently helping to train the Georgian Armed Forces.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to tour the new National Defense Academy in Gori, Georgia. The academy was established in November 2010 by Presidential mandate, and it will accept the first class of students fall 2011.
The Georgia National Guard has assisted with this effort through the SPP by arranging several meeting between Georgian and U.S. academic institutions - including North Georgia College and State University - to help develop curricula and syllabi. Staff members from NGCSU and I plan to attend the grand opening of the Georgian Academy this September.
The future of the partnership will be based on continuing the already robust 15-year-old relationship, with the intent of building defense, interagency, and crisis management capacity within the partner country.
What's clear, however, is that this partnership is just that - a mutually beneficial relationship, of which all Georgians (from either the Peach State or the Eastern European country) can be proud.