By Jerome W. MappSeptember 24, 2019
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Maneuver Division is comprised of 50 to 60 Soldiers and civilian employees who are passionately devoted to two goals: training the Ministry of the National Guard (MNG) to be the best warriors they can be, and building and maintaining lasting friendships with their Saudi counterparts.
"When people come into this culture for the first time, what they don't realize is that they can build lasting relationships [with the Saudis]," said Greg Goth, deputy assistant program manager under the leadership of Col. Bart Hensley, Maneuver's assistant program manager. "Much of what we do relies on the friendships that we build and maintain with our Saudi counterparts."
Maneuver Division advises Light Armored Vehicle brigades and Quick Reaction MNG infantry soldiers.
"We assist the [Saudi Arabian] National Guard with developing their skills to meet their mission requirements," Goth said. "In order to do this, we lean on the expertise of the interpreters who also advise us on the cultural aspects of our mission."
Goth was a Soldier here from 2010 to 2012, spending his tour-of-duty as the senior training officer in a program that began in 1973 and is still going strong more than four decades later. He recalled the many off-duty hours spent sipping tea and sharing conversations with his Saudi counterparts, while building positive relations with soldiers from a culture unlike his own.
At the same time, Goth was dealing with stresses associated with his wife Susan's *Crohn's diagnosis.
In 2012, Goth retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in the Armor branch and relocated the family to Cleveland, Ohio, where his wife underwent successful Crohn's treatment at the famed Cleveland Clinic. During this time, he also maintained personal relationships with his Saudi counterparts through social media.
"Both personally and professionally, you build relationships here that never end," Goth said.
After spending a few years in the private sector as a city employee and substitute teacher, Goth was offered the opportunity to return to Riyadh in 2018 as the deputy program manager of Maneuver Division.
To illustrate the meaningful relationships that are crucial to this mission, Goth related the story of a friendship built on trust with a Saudi soldier.
In 2010, soon after initially arriving at OPM-SANG, one Saudi senior officer whom Goth befriended, noted that he seemed troubled. The officer repeatedly prodded Goth to open up about the personal issues that were apparently etched in his face.
"I told him that I was fine, that nothing was bothering me. He then told me that nothing was going to get done if you lie to me," Goth said.
After Goth confided his wife's illness, the officer offered to pray for Susan. During a return trip to Cleveland, Goth said the officer called him three times every day to inquire as to the status of his wife's health.
As a result of that moment, they have become good friends to the point where the families spend time socializing together, according to Goth. When Susan flew to Saudi Arabia after overcoming her illness, the officer presented her with the very prayer rug that he kneeled on while praying for her recovery. It currently hangs in the family's home in Cleveland.
"He's a friend to this day," Goth said. "I think that we interact well with our counterparts here in Saudi Arabia, and that's a very important aspect of our professional lives here."
Goth believes that Maneuver's Soldiers and civilians can broaden their Saudi Arabian experience by learning the culture and interacting with their counterparts in the MNG on a personal level."
"Returning to Saudi Arabia was an easy decision for me because I like the people, the culture, and I like being a part of this mission," he said. "For anyone -- Soldier or civilian -- who is serving here for the first time, this can be a rewarding assignment."
*(Editor's Note: Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition.")