News: Secretary of Defense visits Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan
Story by Lance Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHUKVANI, Afghanistan - Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, arrived at Forward Operating Base Shukvani, as the soldiers of the 31st Georgian Light Infantry Battalion stood in formation to greet the guest of honor, March 14.
Panetta arrived with Lt. Gen. John Kelly, commanding general of U.S. Southern Command, and Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and addressed the Marines and Georgian soldiers during his visit to Afghanistan.
Col. John Shafer, commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 6 greeted Panetta and escorted him to the formation.
Georgian Army Capt. Paata Nakani, battalion commander with the 31st Georgian LIB, commanded the battalion formation which made a horseshoe around Panetta. With Georgian soldiers kneeling and standing around him, Panetta thanked the Georgians for their hard work, acknowledging their valiant efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan.
“I wanted to take the opportunity to visit this base, because I really appreciate the contribution that the Georgian troops have made to the mission here in Afghanistan,” said Panetta.
He also read a letter of support and thanks from Georgian Army Lt. Col. Alexander Tugushi, the former commanding officer with the 31st Georgian LIB. Tugushi recently received medical treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Bethesda, Md. The letter emphasized the importance of all 50 nations involved with International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan.
“We are an example of that international partnership, fighting for stability in Afghanistan,” said Panetta. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your service to your country and to Afghanistan.”
Panetta said when Afghanistan governs itself independently, it will be because of the sacrifice of soldiers like the ones assigned to the 31st Georgian LIB.
With a silent audience, Panetta said how proud he was of the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces.
“I am also very proud of all of you, in the Georgian army, who put your lives on the line everyday, as well,” said Panetta.
After the speech, Panetta surprised the Georgian soldiers by taking a picture with each one, shaking their hands and giving them each a coin from the office of the Secretary of Defense, as a memento of thanks for their time deployed.
Editor’s note: The 31st Georgian Light Infantry Battalion serves as a part of Regimental Combat Team 6 in 1st Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.