For members of the Covington armory's National Guard unit, who recently returned from a three-week training stint in Georgia, Russia's full-on attack of the small Eastern European nation on Friday, has taken them completely aback.
The National Guard's First Battalion 121st Infantry Regiment left Georgia on Aug. 2. Georgia, a strong United States military ally, launched a surprise attack on Thursday to retake South Ossetia, reportedly killing hundreds of people and triggering a massive counterattack from Russia on Friday. Russia has close ties with the separatist province.
A cease fire was agreed to between Russia and Georgia yesterday.
First Sergeant Patrick Eaton of Bravo Company 1/121 Infantry (Light), said there was no indication during the three weeks Bravo Company spent in Vaziani, which is close to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, training the Georgian Armed Force that Georgia was preparing to attack South Ossetia - a breakaway region of Georgia that won de facto independence in 1992.
"There was nothing that we could determine," Eaton said of the lack of warning of the impending invasion. "I hope that there is peace and the fighting ceases."
Eaton said the area where the training exercises were conducted is several hours away from South Ossetia.
Bravo Company was in Georgia participating in a joint-training exercise with Georgia's Fourth Brigade in what is called Immediate Response 2008. Eaton said the exercise, which is conducted annually, included soldiers from the Ukraine, Azerjiban and Armenia and is intended to coordinate troop responses for coalition forces going into Afghanistan. Next summer Bravo Company will be deployed to Afghanistan for a year.
Eaton said more than a thousand American military personnel took part in the exercise which trained Georgian Armed Forces in small arms marksmanship and emergency medical care among other basic soldier skills.
"We integrated their soldiers in with our soldiers and worked side-by-side," Eaton said. "The Georgians were very motivated. We created some very good relationships on an individual level. We're under the impression that many of the soldiers we got to know very well are probably involved [in the war]."
While returning Bravo Company guardsmen didn't express an opinion one way or the other on the invasion of South Ossetia and Russia's ensuing response, favorable sentiment towards the Georgian Armed Forces they had helped to train was high.
"We hope the best for the Georgian soldiers. There's a lot of good guys there," said Sgt. Neal Andreson. "The Georgian soldiers said that all they want in their country is peace, but they're willing to fight. They're really patriotic."
Corporal Jared Callaway added, "They're doing what they feel they need to do."
Though training took up much of their time in Georgia, some members of Bravo Company found time to visit nearby Tbilisi.
"The people were nice overall," said Sergeant Ryan Callaway, who described Georgian culture as mixture of Mediterranean and Arab influences.
Bravo Company will be taking part in a series of pre-deployment trainings prior to their summer 2009 deployment. They were previously stationed in Baghdad for a year, returning in the summer of 2006.
Cease fire called
After five days of air and land attacks by Russia, Georgia's army was sent into a full-on retreat. The attack has left towns, military bases and homes in the small nation of less than 5 million smoldering.
Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili, said on Tuesday that he has agreed to a plan to end the fighting that was negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The plan calls for both Russian and Georgian troops to move back to their original positions.
Some sticking points remain, including the status of Russian peacekeepers in Georgia's breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said Georgia has been punished enough for its attack on South Ossetia.
"The aggressor has been punished and suffered very significant losses. Its military has been disorganized," Medvedev said.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, said the invasion was not because Russia wanted control of the breakaway regions.
"They just don't want freedom and that's why they want to stamp on Georgia and destroy it," he said.
Tens of thousands of terrified residents have fled the fighting - South Ossetians north to Russia, and Georgians west toward Tbilisi and east to the country's Black Sea coast.
Both sides have traded accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Russia has accused Georgia of killing more than 2,000 people, mostly civilians, in South Ossetia. The claim couldn't be independently confirmed, but witnesses who fled the area over the weekend said hundreds had died.
Many Georgians also have been killed in the fighting and on Tuesday, the Georgian Security Council said it filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice for alleged ethnic cleansing. The overall death toll was expected to rise because large areas of Georgia were still too dangerous for journalists to enter and see the true scope of the damage.
Medvedev assailed the West for supporting Georgia in the conflict: "International law doesn't envision double standards."
U.S. officials were focused primarily on confirming a ceasefire and attending to Georgia's urgent humanitarian needs
"It is very important now that all parties cease fire," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Russia's foreign minister called for Saakashvili to resign. Medvedev said Georgia must pull its troops from the two Russian-backed breakaway provinces and allow them to decide whether they want to remain part of Russia.
"Ossetians and Abkhaz must respond to that question taking their history into account, including what happened in the past few days," Medvedev said.
Georgia, which is pushing for NATO membership, borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia and was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their own affairs without international recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s.
Both separatist provinces are backed by Russia, which appears open to absorbing them.
The Russian onslaught angered the West and drew tough words from President George Bush, but some Georgians are disappointed that the United States did not intervene to protect its tiny ally.
Georgia sits on a strategic oil pipeline carrying Caspian crude to Western markets bypassing Russia and has long been a source of contention between the West and a resurgent Russia, the dominant energy supplier to Europe.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.