International Military Education and Training Program Recipients are Leading the Defense Transformation in Georgia

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U.S. and Georgian soldiers exchange patches during a ceremony in support of the Georgia Defense Readiness Program at the Vaziani Training Area in Georgia.
U.S. and Georgian soldiers exchange patches during a ceremony in support of the Georgia Defense Readiness Program at the Vaziani Training Area in Georgia.

International Military Education and Training Program Recipients are Leading the Defense Transformation in Georgia

Since 1995, when the first Georgian officer attended a professional military education course in the United States that was funded through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, graduates have been leading and catalyzing the Georgian military’s defense transformation, internalizing the lessons learned during their time in the United States, and building trust and professional relationships with U.S. officers over the long term. 

Over the last three years, the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team within the PM Bureau’s Office of Security Assistance (PM/SA) has been assessing the impact of IMET programs with foreign partners like Georgia. In general, IMET has a reputation for delivering an outsized impact and achieving greater return on investment than other security assistance programs. Both U.S. and foreign stakeholders have lauded the program. However, the M&E team’s June 2018 visit to Georgia added granularity to this largely anecdotal picture, which has helped PM/SA to better understand program trends and identify factors that contribute to the IMET program’s success.

Representatives from PM/SA, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, White House Office of Management and Budget, and U.S. European Command conducted an oversight trip to Georgia on June 11-15, 2018. This visit coincided with a quarterly review of the Georgia Defense Readiness Program – Training (GDRP-T), a joint project of the Georgian Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense that is meant to increase the combat readiness of the Georgian Defense Forces (GDF).  

In Tbilisi, the M&E team interviewed a diverse group of ten Georgian military officers and senior civilians who had previously attended IMET-funded courses in the United States.  The recipients, a mix of male and female students, came from a wide range of professional and educational backgrounds.  A number of the interviewees had participated in more than one IMET course, or were preparing to attend their second course.

A Georgian and U.S. soldier work together during a drill. Georgians have cited the exposure to U.S. military techniques through IMET as the key to creating change in their own country.

Based on their extensive interviews with Georgian IMET participants, the M&E team made the following observations:

IMET recipients are catalyzing and leading Georgia’s defense transformation. Interlocutors noted that through the lessons learned during IMET-funded courses, the Georgian military is slowly but steadily reorienting itself towards a Westernized model where the skills and practices students learn in the U.S. are directly transferable and reinforced throughout the Georgian system.  For example, one colonel established a course for the GDF similar to the Maneuver Captains Career Course he attended in the United States. During the oversight visit, the M&E team observed combined arms rehearsals with multiple Georgian IMET recipients interspersed throughout the teams. One commander, who participated in multiple courses in the United States, commented that the courses aided his planning and execution skills, which he now imparts to his units. He added that the multitude of IMET recipients in the GDF have a shared understanding of drawing upon U.S. doctrine and planning techniques to continue Georgia’s defense transformation. IMET’s effects are apparent with civilians in the defense sector, as well. One student, who attended a human resources course on performance management, said she could immediately implement lessons she learned in the U.S. and improve the performance management system in Georgia.

In addition to the multiple GDF mid-level and rising stars who have benefitted from IMET, IMET’s impact at the highest levels of the Georgian Ministry of Defense and General Staff cannot be overstated.  As a result, potential issues facing senior leadership are quickly identified, properly communicated, and seamlessly resolved through a shared understanding of requirements and mutual respect. 

U.S. and Georgian representatives participate in a Graduation Ceremony for Georgian soldiers who have successfully completed an iteration in the Georgia Defense Readiness Program at the Vaziani Training Area in Georgia.

IMET has helped to shape the next generation of leaders in Georgia as they internalize what they have learned through their experiences in the United States. Georgian IMET recipients said studying in the United States had changed their way of thinking. They now understand the way in which the U.S. military analyzes problems and justifies its decision-making, and are able to apply those techniques in Georgia. The Georgians also observed the way in which different ranks and military services interact with one another and how these interactions contributed to the U.S. military’s strength and professionalism. One student noted that he could better identify Georgian military shortfalls after returning from a U.S. course, and that his approach to problems had become more strategic and realistic. The participants’ comments also indicated that the changes in the Georgian military will likely become more evident as senior officials eventually retire and are replaced by younger officers who have more experience partnering with the United States. The interviewees commented that graduates from IMET-funded courses should become the future instructors in Georgia and apply what they learn in a U.S. classroom to the Georgian system.

IMET courses are a means to build trust and long term relationships between U.S. officers and their partners in foreign militaries.  Georgian IMET participants reported that their coursework gave them the opportunity to build social networks and professional relationships that go far beyond their formal lessons. These are then maintained through informal channels such as Facebook and WhatsApp. One civilian IMET recipient said he continues to meet with his American colleagues on a monthly basis when they travel to Georgia. Another graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) was asked by the NATO Defense College to write a chapter for one of their professional publications.

About the Author: Rohina Phadnis is a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs' Office of Security Assistance.