By Johnny Jackson
Three local sons were welcomed to the historic Tbilisi, the 1,500-year-old capital city of Georgia. The small mountainous country - nestled between the Black and Caspian seas at the farthest eastern edge of Europe - borders Turkey and Russia, and is home to an ancient people and culture.
Pfc. Seth Callaway, 19, Cpl. Jared Callaway, 22, and Sgt. Ryan Callaway, 24, of the Army National Guard, recently returned home from the city, where they served as good will ambassadors.
The brothers, members of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment in Covington, Ga., are the sons of McDonough residents, Mark and Karmen Callaway.
The brothers, all infantrymen, recently served as American military ambassadors of good will during a cooperative exchange of ideas with the Georgian Armed Forces. More than 900 American service members, mainly Marines and soldiers, converged at this former Soviet base to improve understanding between the militaries and to share their knowledge.
"We're training the Georgian Army in basic infantry skills to allow them to be successful on their next deployment to Iraq," said Jared Callaway, who has previously served in Iraq. "We have trained them on movement tactics, weapons theory and how to react to obstacles they will encounter in Iraq."
The Georgian military contributes the third largest amount of coalition troops in Iraq.
"We're training the Georgian soldiers," Seth Callaway said. "But at the same time, we're training for our upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in 2009. I'm a rifleman on a fire team and I'm helping the Georgians learn our basic tasks and duties."
American military personnel from stations in the U.S. and Europe, spent two weeks to a month at this Georgian base, living, eating, sharing military tactics, playing sports and holding ceremonies with the Georgian military. Those involved were also able to facilitate a sponsorship of two local orphanages during the military exercise.
"It was something that I have never done before - training with a foreign army," Seth Callaway said. "After watching fellow soldiers and how they interact with the Georgians, it became very easy for me to do the same. It was interesting to watch the Georgians react in our platoon-sized movements.
"It's a beautiful country," he added. "The mountainous terrain has really left an impression on me. There is a lot of history here where we have been. It was also a great experience to be out here with my two brothers and get to train with them."
Seth Callaway is the youngest of the three brothers. He is a 2007 graduate of Dutchtown High School in Hampton, Ga. His older brothers are graduates of Stockbridge High School in Stockbridge, Ga. Jared is a 2004 graduate and Ryan is a 2002 graduate.
Ryan and Jared are combat veterans, serving in Iraq from 2005-2006. Seth only recently graduated from basic training on June 6. All three are planning an eventual tour in Afghanistan soon.
"I want to get back into college after our tour in Afghanistan and become a history teacher for the 11th grade, and also be a football and wrestling coach," Seth said.
Shared military knowledge in an ancient land is what the Callaways are likely to remember from their days in Georgia, but from a larger political perspective, they are ambassadors of good will to a people who desire an even closer future relationship. In 2004, President George W. Bush paid his first visit to the region in what was the first-ever American presidential visit to Georgia, which prompted the government to rename its main highway leading from Tbilisi to its international airport, "George W. Bush Street."
"I have loved the interaction," said Jared, of his experience in Georgia. "I always enjoy seeing other cultures first-hand. I think it is really good for our younger soldiers that have never traveled. [And] I learned that most armies are the same. They love to trade patches, build relationships and laugh.
"Georgia is a very unique country, but it has a lot of poverty," Jared said. "It makes me, once again, appreciate my wonderful family, my loving girlfriend, and all that God has blessed me with."
His mother, Karmen, expressed a similar sentiment about her sons' service together.
"I'm proud," she said. "We've just been a really close, patriotic family. They are all about being together. The first time Ryan and Jared went overseas, they were not together. They were in separate units. When they were in Iraq, they didn't see each other but maybe two or three times the whole year. They don't want to do that again."
Most American service members involved in exercise "Immediate Response 08" departed the country prior to the warring outbreak between Georgia and Russia that began Aug. 7. The Callaway brothers are currently in the United States awaiting their next, respective training assignments.
Army & Air Force Hometown News writer, Michael Tolzmann, contributed to this article.