moja polska zbrojna
Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Close to the Army

We accompany soldiers in garrisons, on training fields and on the missions. We are where they are – in situations which change the face of entire army, or during regular duties of soldiers. In their happy and their tragic moments…

Some of us worked here already in the previous century, and witnessed many historical events, as well as regular daily military life. The army was changing right before our eyes. We would tell army stories as best as we could, and remain in the shadow of our protagonists.

We, the journalists of Polska Zbrojna.

Brick by Brick, Word by Word

For Krzysztof Wilewski, it was his fourth day of work. On April 4, 2003, he went to Drawsko Pomorskie to report on Exercise Loud Military Trumpet (Donośna Surma). He had just talked to soldiers, taken some pictures, and was about to get onboard helicopter. He never did. Watching from the ground, he saw the machine go in circles above the training field, then descend, tilting sideway. Next he saw was the machine going down, its rotor catching on a Honker standing aside. The clang of crushed metal, the bang of explosion, the flames bursting up in the sky… “I remember we were running to help. I found a cracked helmet, and put it aside. In my head sudden thought: that’s important. Based on analysis of the helmet, experts can tell the kind of injuries of a man wearing it,” Krzysztof tells his story. As it later turned out, Mi-24 crashed, and three soldiers were killed: two crew members and a Honker driver. “It was a tough lesson for me. I saw how high a price for a service in uniform can be,” the journalist recalls today.

People’s dramatic stories, uneasy interviews, emotions. You keep them forever… Paulina Glińska still remembers her visit in the 36th Special Transport Aviation Regiment, non-existing today. “I went to Okęcie with Piotr Bernabiuk [a former journalist of Polska Zbrojna]. It was shortly after the Smoleńsk Air Disaster in 2010, and we were to write about pilots and stewardesses who died then,” she explains. Behind the gates, first what struck them, was silence. Almost absolute silence. “They were all deep in shock. They were shut down behind a thick wall, and we had to dismantle this wall brick by brick. It was extremely difficult. But slowly, word by word, our interlocutors would open up,” says Paulina.

Bogusław Politowski, with Polska Zbrojna since 1996, often comes back to one of his interviews. “During the holiday of the 7th Wielkopolska Mounted Rifle Battalion in Wędrzyn, I met Maria and Stanisław Sitarczuk. Their son died in Afghanistan. We talked for a while, but I was immediately touched. I had the feeling I should give them more time,” the journalist recalls. Several months later, the Sitarczuks came to celebrate the holiday of the 1st Brzeska Sapper Regiment. It was their son’s military unit. “From Brzeg to Wrocław, near which I live, is not far, so I simply invited them to my house,” Bogusław Politowski explains. The Sitarczuks came, and told their story. About Szymon having been his only child. About his love for motorcycles. About them, their life in ruin, after he was killed. They somehow managed to come back to life, but part of them died forever. “I think it was the saddest and most emotional interview I have ever done. When they were talking, Maria was crying, my wife was crying, and I was so overcome with emotions I felt I had a lump in my throat. We took cigarette breaks with Stanisław to go outside and somehow compose ourselves. His eyes, too, were welled up with tears,” Bogusław tells his story. Today, he thinks they were doing something important. We paid tribute not only to Szymon, but also to all boys who serve in missions,” he adds.

Heart on the Sleeve

Look behind the scenes, touch the world which for most people is unavailable, and then tell about it as best as possible. Perhaps even discover some secret on the way. Magdalena Kowalska-Sendek in her professional life wrote many, if not over a dozen, materials about “Operation: Heart” (“Akcja serce”) – military aviators transport transplant surgeons, so they can get organs for transplantation as fast as possible. The goal is noble, but when you describe yet another similar story, it is easy to fall into routine. Unless you witness the entire operation on your own. “I was invited onboard the CASA aircraft of the 8th Transport Aviation Base in Kraków. The aircraft carried a team of transplant surgeon – in one of hospitals in the region of Great Poland (Wielkopolska) they were to get a heart from a donor killed in a car crash,” Magda recalls. She saw the emotions of both, the pilots and medical personnel. The tension was increasing with every minute. “Today, I don’t exactly remember how this happened, but somebody put a doctor’s smock on me, and I was pushed into the operation room. There, at the distance of barely several meters away, through the glass window, I could watch the surgeons’ work. I watched them grab their instruments, lean over the operation table, and put the heart into a special container. Soon after, our ambulance was speeding to the airport,” she tells her story. “Several days ago, I knew this race with time ended happily. One of the pilots called me and said: »The heart transplant has been successful!« You could see that for these soldiers, the story didn’t end with landing the aircraft,” a journalist adds.

For her, getting on that plane was quite simple – it took only several phone calls. Sometimes, however, getting through to the army’s inside takes long months. Such was the situation when Magdalena Kowalska-Sendek and Ewa Korsak tried to get to see the selection for candidates to the special forces. “My interest in the special forces started during my visit to Wędrzyn and the training of the 17th Wielkopolska Mechanized Brigade. Retired GROM operators were instructors there. I watched them work, I listened to what they had to say, and I was having the feeling that I wanted to write about the special forces. But getting in there was close to a miracle,” says Ewa Korsak. One day, ‘Naval’ called her, whom she had just met in Wędrzyn: “»Drago« [a former commando of US Navy SEALs] is coming. We’re having a meeting, so come on in.” I quickly took my things, and went there. On the spot, I met Colonel Piotr Gąstała, GROM commander at the time, and I was nagging him to give us permission to write about the forces,” Ewa recalls. Finally, he did. He agreed to the material about the most extreme training of these units, but we had to stick to a number of restricting rules not to expose soldiers. “With Magda Kowalska-Sendek, we were taking our little steps towards »the specials. « We were building their trust step by step. Soon, we started to be invited to watch selections for different special forces’ units,” she explains.

The beginnings, though, were not that easy. “The specials were quite careful with us. I remember the selection for AGAT. When we tried our icebreaker jokes, the instructor – Major Wojciech »Zachar« Zacharków – threatened that one more such joke, and we would be doing push-ups with soldiers,” recalls Magda. “With time, they got used to us, but for quite a time I had a feeling that we’re walking on thin ice. One false step, and we’re done. Some time ago, »Zachar« mentioned in one of his FB posts that he had had mixed feelings about us at some point, but then, slowly, trusted us,” she says.

For Bogusław Politowski, one of such key moments was… discovering Karbala. In the spring of 2004, the unit commanded by Captain Grzegorz Kaliciak, between April 3 and 6 was defending themselves against the rebellion attacks of Mahdi Army, who was trying to seize the city hall of this Iraqi town. The fight was the greatest battle in which the Polish troops participated since WWII. Except for the fact the soldiers were not allowed to talk about it. “That PMC rotation belonged to the 17th Mechanized Brigade. When soldiers were coming home, I went to greet them. The welcoming was organized at Międzyrzecze City Hall. There were flowers, shaking hands, pictures, and I – with my sixths journalist sense – felt that something was wrong. Only after, some of them started talking. I got into the subject a little deeper, and I persuaded two persons to give me an interview. Anonymously, at that time,” the journalist recalls. “The result was the PZ article. Then, other media shared the news, and the battle became widely known. Until today, I feel that satisfaction that I had been the first to find a trace of it,” he says.

How’s Your Service, Soldiers?

The military also means sport. Military athletes also represent Poland on the world sports arenas. For over three decades, their struggles have been thoroughly watched and reported on by Jacek Szustakowski. He was at the military Summer Olympics three times. He was reporting from Rio de Janeiro, Mungyeong in South Korea and Chinese Wuhan. He also was at Winter Olympics in France. “I lived in the Olympic village, I had meals with the athletes, I watched them in training and in competition. I saw their emotions, stress, but also great happiness. That’s an incredible feeling,” Jacek tells us.

At the military Olympics, Poland was represented by athletes with many attainments in civil sports. For some, the Olympic games would open the door to great carrier. “Until today, I still clearly remember a dramatic rivalry in discus throw in Korea. Poland was represented by Piotr Małachowski, a star of world light athletics, but at the same time the sergeant in the Polish Armed Forces,” Jacek recalls. “At first, he wasn’t very lucky. Until the last round, he had been off the podium. He was rather downbeat. Next thing, he just had this phenomenal throw. He turned back, cried out loud: »We’ve got it!«”, and the discus kept flying and flying. With this throw, Małachowski moved high up in general ranking. The gold medal had already been out of reach, but he got the silver one…

Many journalists works in the military editorial office for over a dozen, even over 20 years. This gave them the opportunity to watch from up close fundamental changes in the Polish Armed Forces. The greatest one was without doubt Poland’s joining the North-Atlantic Alliance. “Joining NATO actually revealed how poor our army was. We had some heavy machines, but soldiers did not actually have sufficient personal equipment. For the mission in Bosnia and Hercegovina, they set off equipped only with, e.g. vests which were soon ironically called »little turtles.« Their shape made it impossible to put your arm along your body,” explains Tadeusz Wróbel, who has watched the Polish army transformation for years, and specializes in international affairs.

Although Polish Army started its transformation when the country took its pro-west turn, still these changes in many areas took time. “When at the end of the 1990s I started working, the conscription to the army was compulsory,” Anna Dąbrowska recalls. “One day, my boss delegated me to the garrison near Warsaw so I can talk with the recruits about their impressions. A commander of one company squeezed a few dozen recruits in one room, put me in front of them, and said: »Tell the lady about your service here.« There was a little dismay in the room, they were looking at everything but me. First, they were a little surprised, I guess, that I was a woman who’s interested in the army. Even more that at the time, there weren’t many women in the army. Second, all that time their commander stood right behind my back. It was kind of difficult,” Ania tells us.

A milestone for the Polish army was obviously Polish participation in foreign missions. The Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq – our soldiers would go to trouble regions, those destroyed by wars, continuously dangerous. They would carry their combat tasks, gather experience, many of them paid the highest price. The Polska Zbrojna journalists could watch this from up close, sometimes even coming out of their role of reporters. Krzysztof Wilewski for several months was part of the press office of the Polish Military Contingent in Afghanistan. “Suddenly, I could see the world I had been routinely writing about from entirely different perspective. I would regularly go on patrols. Three of my colleagues died when their Humvee exploded on the IEDs,” he recalls, and adds that although he rather separates his work as a journalist from his work for the PMC, still, from the professional point of view, it gave him a lot. Today, Krzysztof has a veteran’s status.
Polish army participates in foreign missions also today, and each such mission becomes a breakthrough. “For me, one of the most valuable professional experiences was the visit in the PMC Kuwait. I flew there in May 2017 barely for three days, but all this time I had a feeling that I was a witness of a historical event – the first combat mission of Polish aviators since the end of WWII,” Michał Zieliński recalls. The F-16 pilots did reconnaissance flights over the territory of the so-called Islamic State. “Earlier on, I was a war photographer in Syria or Iraq. But now I had an opportunity to look at the Middle-East conflict from a different perspective. I brought from this trip seven or eight articles, and hundreds of pictures,” he says.

This Is My Face

Foreign missions brought a technological and mental leap. They however also brought a new generation of veterans in Poland. Quite often, these were people who for their service in Iraq or Afghanistan paid with their own health. They had to find themselves in this situation. Their presence was also a challenge for the state. The role model for Poland in this area were the United States. Anna Dąbrowska was invited by the US government to visit the United States and see from experience how the veteran problem had been solved there. “There were several of us, and we visited five states. We visited hospitals, rehabilitation centers, centers helping veterans leave homelessness or addiction behind. We met dozens of people, from the representatives of the Department of Defense to the members of families who support lonely veterans, e.g. by inviting them for a weekend to their homes,” Anna recalls. “I had the opportunity to see what help and care these people get, but also how the attitude towards them had changed. Only a few dozen years ago, the Vietnam war veterans were in general left alone. Nowadays, the veterans are treated with due respect, as they serve their country and are ready for the highest sacrifices for a common good,” she adds.

Polish veterans can also count on better support. They have their own hospital, rehabilitation therapies. In 2008, Stowarzyszenie Rannych i Poszkodowanych w Misjach poza Granicami Kraju (Association of the Wounded and Injured in Missions Abroad) was established, and four years later, the Sejm adopted the act regulating a veteran’s status. “I had followed these changes from the very beginning. I tried to be close to the veterans, not only out of my journalist’s duty. They simply deserved the attention and they wanted to be heard,” admits Małgorzata Schwarzgruber, a journalist of Polska Zbrojna, and she recalls the situation she witnessed during the first rehabilitation holidays organized by the association. “I wanted to take a group picture, but assumed that former soldiers, who suddenly must cope with their disabilities, as well as the widows and parents of those killed, would like to remain anonymous. So I told them to turn their backs on the camera,” says Małgorzata. “I took one photo, and then I had this idea: »Volunteers can show their faces for the next photo,« I said. Suddenly, these people, one by one, started to turn around to show their faces… .”

The Best Trip in My Life

Next, the Americans, British, Romanians, Croatians visited us. It was another revolution. In Poland, the allied forces were stationed. Permanently, and invited by Polish authorities. Foreign uniforms merged with the landscape of Polish cities and villages. Although, at the beginning, neither guests nor hosts knew what to expect.

Magdalena Miernicka recalls the moment when the first rotation of the NATO battalion-size battle group was coming to Poland. “I was in Orzysz at the time. For the town, it was really something. The English lessons were given to its residents, restaurants would print their menus in English. Then, the soldiers came. All with weapons, wearing camouflage on their faces. They seemed a little uncertain, for them, eastern flank was a huge question mark. All in all, they turned out to be very open people,” says Magda.

Similar memory shares Michał Zieliński, who accompanied the US Army soldiers in their Dragon Ride, the army transfer through the territory of Poland and the Baltic states to the exercise in Estonia. “It was 2016 and the US Army 2nd Cavalry Regiment. I was certain I had all permissions, but when I came there, the press officer was surprised, and simply left me. So I tried talking to soldiers. I said hello, and it turned out I could help them – they wanted to order pizza, but didn’t know the language. I made the order, we sat down, had some pizza, talked a while. They put me into one of the Hummers. When the column started off, I was sleeping. I woke up four hours later at the gas station. The press officer saw me, very much surprised once again, but he threw my ID to me, and murmured: “Welcome to Dragon Ride,” Michał tells his story. “I spent three weeks with them. I worked hard, took a lot of pictures, wrote many articles, but also, in that atmosphere, I was relaxed as never before. I think it had been the best trip in my life,” he adds

Good Morning, It’s Rasmussen

“Water! Water! Water!,” I hear the order. My cabin immediately dives into the swimming pool, fills up with water, and turns upside down. Now, I only have to unfasten my seat belt, push the door out with my arm, and come to the surface. Easier said then done, when your labyrinth goes crazy, and your lungs are slowly lacking oxygen. I manage with the help of instructors. Such was my adventure with a simulator, which recreates the conditions in a helicopter or aircraft when in the water. The device is in the Center for Training of Divers and Skin-Divers of the Polish Army in Gdynia. Several years ago, I spent there a day. I pretended to be a pilot fighting for survival at sea. For me, it was without any doubt one of the most interesting professional experiences, although my experience list is quite long. My list includes many goings into the Baltic sea on board of our vessels (from minesweepers to submarines), but also the participation in breakthrough events, such as launching the enhanced forward presence of US division command in Poznań.
On the list, there are tens of visits to training fields and thousands of interviews, but there is one totally unexpected. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Poland’s presence in NATO, Polska Zbrojna was preparing a special issue. I was tasked with interviewing a former NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. We assumed that I simply e-mail questions to his office, and he would answer them when he’d have a chance. I was very much surprised to have been informed that the Secretary would call me at a scheduled time. He actually did. One morning, I heard on my mobile: “Good morning, it’s Rasmussen… .”

Łukasz Zalesiński

autor zdjęć: arch. prywatne dziennikarzy, Jarosław Wiśniewski, Artur Zakrzewski, st. chor. sztab. mar. Arkadiusz Dwulatek/ ComCam DORSZ, Krzysztof Wojciewski

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