The Americans are taking the lead of the Combat Battalion Group, which for over three years has been stationed in Europe. Considering the fact that in July the 7th rotation started, about several thousand US Army soldiers stayed in Masuria in that period.
The US Army soldiers first came to the Masuria region in 2017 to work on better cooperation with the allies of other armies. They do this during field training, but they also often join the initiatives of Polish soldiers. They take part in innovative trainings organized by the 15th Mechanized Brigade stationed in Masuria to master their dynamic shooting or hand-to-hand combat. They have even recently been training attack and defense… in water. This kind of training was for many a surprise. “I know now that he who never trained how to fight in water, has no idea about fighting. The rules change in water,” says Sgt Charles Pferrer, US Army.
Maj Tomasz Dembiński, who authors innovative training programs, says that US Army soldiers are exceptionally committed to the task. “When they train, they train as if they were fighting for their »to be or not to be.« I remember one time when the president and defense minister watched our training, and a US Army soldier was my partner. We were to only master fighting technique by practicing one blow, but he really started fighting. I had to overpower him,” he laughs.
The Allies are also willing to join social initiatives organized by the Polish Armed Forces. They participated in, e.g. martial arts training for veterans, like “Project Warrior.” The coach of this edition was Joanna Jędrzejczyk, the then Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion, a prestigious American MMA organization. One of the participants was Sgt Alvin Williams, a soldier but also MMA athlete. “Training in such international company is for us a chance not only for mastering our skills, but also for an integration. Though I must confess that for me the coach was most important. I am the fan of Joanna Jędrzejczak, she’s my favorite,” he said. Several weeks later, the soldier himself decided to test his strengths in the seventh edition of Army Fight Night.
Like At Home
Their stay in Poland does not only mean military exercise and training. Soldiers also have their time off. How do they spend it? Małgorzata Sobolewska, a translator who has worked with the soldiers for several years, answers my question: “This may be surprising, but I often hear from the soldiers that Masurian landscape reminds them of their home. The United States are not only big cities, which we know from movies, but also little towns and villages. That’s where many of them were growing up,” she explains. No wonder that American soldiers often spend their free time doing some outdoor activities, such as canoe trips or fishing.
“Canoeing is one of my best memories from Europe. Another thing is that I was quite surprised to see how often the Poles go hunting for mushrooms. It’s not that popular in the USA, although I myself like mushrooms very much,” laughs LtCol Hannah Holden.
As the soldiers say, staying in Masuria gives them mainly the opportunity to meet the Poles. “When I first came here, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. But Polish people are very nice and they are great hosts. I think I will stay in touch with many of them when my mission here is over,” says Sgt Robert Bragg whose stay here in Poland is the third one. “Obviously, there is this communication barrier, but Polish people are very patient and helpful, so we manage to overcome it,” adds LtCol Holden.
Our allies also enjoy their opportunity to learn about the history of our country. As they say, it helps them to understand what challenges Poland had to face for years, and – as a result – why they are here. Almost all of them visited the nearby Boyen Fortress or the Wolf’s Lair, a former headquarters of Adolf Hitler. “Poland has amazing history. We’ve been to many places that relate to, for instance, World War II. Poland played a very important role in the history of the entire world. It’s good to be here and see it all with our own eyes,” says Sgt Michael Doling, US Army. Sgt Bragg has gone for a lot of sightseeing trips around Poland. “I very much liked the visit to Kraków, and I hope I will visit it again. I will never forget Auschwitz – I’d read about this place, but I’d never expected it to be such an emotional experience for me,” he says.
American soldiers often accompany their Polish colleagues during celebrating anniversaries of subsequent historical events. When they in Warsaw, many of them go straight to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. “The story of people defending their city is amazing. I’d heard about the Uprising before, but I never realized that the canals played such a crucial role during fights. I myself serve in the US National Guard, so this is a valuable lesson for me,” said Sgt Arturo Guzman.
On Civil Front
The Americans often join local initiatives. Before the pandemic, they participated in Masurian picnics, concerts or sporting events. They ran in a charity relay race, the goal of which was to collect money for a new hospice. As it turns out, it was not the only charity activity they took part in. In 2019, the US soldiers made all their efforts to help a girl who had cancer. They called their charity project Michalina’s Army, and they prepared the posters in English encouraging people to donate money for the girl’s treatment, they even made T-shirts which they distributed in their troops. “I have medical education, so it’s quite clear to me what the diagnosis the girl heard means. We’re doing all we can to get her the best treatment,” said SPC Norman Kloszewski, US Army.
Every time our allies learn somebody needs help, they react right away. “Before the COVID-19 epidemic, soldiers would often visit the seniors in the local nursing homes or collect toys for children in need,” recalls Sobolewska. In 2019, at Christmas time, they even invited the kids from a child care home to visit their base. “Christmas time is special. Everybody thinks of their close ones, and soldiers couldn’t spend that time with their families. I think that for many of them this visit was the way to cope with Christmas homesickness,” says the translator. Soldiers entertained their guests with some games and gifts, but also prepared some Christmas food, like green bean casserole or roasted ham.
It does not however mean that the Americans eat only American food here in Poland. They are happy to taste Polish food, too. “The most popular among US soldiers are the pierogi (Polish dumplings), I think. Soldiers of every rotation love them, they are astonished these can be prepared in so many ways. Many of them orders them every time they eat in a local restaurant. What’s interesting, after some time, they can even tell where pierogi are served freshly made, and where they are premade (frozen) ones,” laughs Katarzyna Kardasiewicz, who until recently worked in the allied base in Bemowo Piskie. “One of the soldiers fell in love with kluski śląskie. He would every day ask the canteen staff if they are in today’s menu,” she mentions. Sgt Bragg confirms: “I found a place where they serve it with duck. They are delicious!.” LtCol Holden adds briefly that he likes Polish sausage (kiełbasa) best.
Chico, a small adopted dog, is another resident of the US base. How come the dog found his home in the military base? Małgorzata Sobolewska recalls that once he just joined the military exercise. He would accompany soldiers in their 13-km march, and afterwards make his appearance once in a while on the training field. All in all, he became a permanent companion of the soldiers.
Unfortunately, at some point the dog was found in the dog shelter. The soldiers made all the efforts to get him out of there. They succeeded! Chico went through thorough medical examination, was provided his own carer and kennel, and became a legal resident of the allied base in Masuria. “Some time ago, there was a great race in our unit – with 1,200 participants. The first to start the race was of course Chico. We laughed that he was the one to route soldiers,” laughs the translator.
autor zdjęć: Magda Miernicka