At 9:30 on January 12, 2017, a column of vehicles of the American Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) crossed the German-Polish border at the crossing in Olszyna. The soldiers were welcomed by the then commander of the 11th “Lubuska” Armored Cavalry Division, MajGen Jarosław Mika. Thus Operation Atlantic Resolve began, which aimed at strengthening the eastern flank of NATO. The 3rd ABCT was deployed in Żagań and nearby towns: Świętoszów, Skwierzyna, Bolesławiec, as well as at Camp Karliki of the Żagań training area.
Third American Rotation
At the end of May 2018, the third rotation of American troops began their service in Poland. The duties were taken over by the 1st “Iron Horse” Cavalry Brigade from Texas, commanded by Col Wilson “Trey” R. Rutherford.
Since the very beginning of the operation of strengthening the eastern flank of NATO, one Allied battalion has always stationed at the barracks of the 10th Armored Cavalry Division in Świętoszów. The first guests arrived at the old Soviet base in January 2017. It was the 4-10 Armored Cavalry Battalion, replaced by the 5-4 Armored Cavalry Battalion, and later by the 2-70 Tank Battalion. Since the beginning of June, the 1-7 Heavy Reconnaissance Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Brigade has been stationing in Świętoszów. Its force is about 600 soldiers and over 200 pieces of equipment. The most important armament are the Abrams tanks and the Bradley tracked IFVs. The subunit is commanded by an experienced officer, a participant of many foreign missions, and a graduate of the famous Military Academy at West Point – LtCol Kevin Bradley.
“Our task on the battlefield is to locate the enemy and evaluate its forces. We do reconnaissance by fire that allows the brigade command and other subunits to regroup, so that they can enter combat at full force,” explains LtCol Bradley.
Cooperation in Combat
In 2017, after only a dozen or so days from arrival, American subunits began intensive training at training areas, often together with Polish troops. There were so many exercises that some of our commanders started to complain about disorganizing the schedules of units which could not get to training area facilities. However, the situation quickly got back to normal when Americans deployed in Żagań started going to exercises organized at other training areas in Poland and countries of Eastern Europe.
The commander of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade, BrigGen Dariusz Parylak, did not complain at any point. He made sure to take as much advantage as possible from the presence of Allied troops in his barracks. He initiated a project of partner cooperation, not only as regards training. In consultation with the Allied command, he allocated subunits of his brigade to partner with American troops stationing at his unit during their entire stay. From then on, tank crew members from Polish companies on their Leopards have been planning and conducting training together with tankers from the USA on their Abrams tanks. The plan was similar for mechanized troops, staff and logistics subunits. “This way training became more effective. Troops learned to cooperate, and the desire to show to the Allies their best side motivated them to get more involved,” explains the general.
What seemed a bit problematic was that Polish and American subunits were sometimes at different stages of training. When, for example, our soldiers practiced coordination at company level, Americans were coordinating platoons. However, it soon turned out that there is a simple solution to this problem. If it was impossible to combine capabilities of equivalent subunits being at the same level of training, they were supplemented. Thus, American mechanized troops operated alongside a Polish subunit of engineers, and they were additionally supported by chemical subunits. They also received anti-aircraft support from the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade, since the Allies did not have it within their structure.
Partnership in the brigade in Świętoszów is more than just joint exercises. Subunits compete in many sport events. Poles and Americans learn about each other’s cultures by participating in various events and trips. Our guests watch Polish movies with English subtitles. Some of them, e.g. about Warsaw Uprising or Katyń, are preceded by lectures that help American soldiers better understand the history of our country.
Different Conditions of Service
Before leaving for Poland, the commander of the American reconnaissance squadron visited the command of the 2-70 Tank Battalion, which had already stationed in Świętoszów until May. He wanted to ask them about the conditions of military service in Poland. They proved to be different than in the USA, mainly as regards the climate and the area of deployment. In Texas, for example, the temperatures in the vicinity of Fort Hood reach around 40oC in June. In Świętoszów, it reached no more than 30oC on the hottest days. Training fields in Texas do not have as many trees and are located on flat land. Tactical lanes and exercise areas are bigger and located further away from heavy trafficked roads and houses.
LtCol Bradley, however, can see benefits of these differences. He thinks that the stay in Poland will provide a learning opportunity for his staff officers who plan tactical exercises. They have to consider hills, glens and forests, which are natural places to organize defense, create firing posts or gather more forces. Before making a decision, they have to organize area reconnaissance patrols in order to compare the landform with the maps received from the command in Germany and from the staff of the 10th Brigade.
The thing that causes some problems, in the colonel’s opinion, is introducing degrees of fire hazard that prevent firing practice, and in the event of highest risk of fire, prohibit any movement of vehicles at the training area. “In America, regulations are less strict. We have special military and civilian groups at training areas that react in the event of fire. There is no such thing as ceasing the training. Training fields are very far from people’s dwellings. Also, there are no trees, so the risk of fire is much lower,” explained the commander of the American battalion.
The barracks of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade will be home for the troops of the American squadron for several upcoming months. Their command will station here non-stop, but the subunits will not only exercise at the adjacent Żagań training area. They will go to various exercises, also those organized in other countries, such as Lithuania, Slovakia or Germany.
Before the arrival of American troops to Świętoszów over a year ago, the barracks had not been prepared in any special way. The American soldiers were accommodated in two buildings that had recently been renovated. They keep their equipment at a designated place – the unit’s equipment yard. The 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade has a sports hall and proper infrastructure for strength training, so the Allies did not set up their own gym in a tent.
The guests quickly came to an agreement with the brigade’s command as to adjusting to the unit’s daily routine. When Polish troops begin their day at 7:00 a.m. with a walk/run, they also do their morning fitness routine. Training classes at the unit begin at 8:00 a.m., and the Americans accepted this schedule. The unit became a two-nation fort, where troops of both armies function in perfect harmony.
“I’ve noticed that since the Americans are here, the quality of work improved in many organizational units. All matters are dealt with promptly, and interpersonal relations are more friendly,” says LtCol Renart Skrzypczak, Chief of Staff of the military unit. Representatives of the brigade’s command think that the changes arise from the shift in mentality of some Polish military officials, who are trying to show their best side to foreign visitors. The same applies to meals. Polish personnel prepares them for both groups of soldiers. Pork chop with a side of cabbage has become one of the Americans’ favorite dishes.
Polish soldiers often talk about the Americans – in the smoking room, for example. Most of them think that American soldiers are nice guys, so they often talk to them in the canteen, or invite them for a beer after work. Americans certainly do not act like celebrities just because they serve in the world’s most powerful army – Polish-American conversations are down-to-earth and full of funny anecdotes. One of them is about how hard it was for US Army drivers to get used to our narrow roads. “Once, an American driver suddenly stopped his car in the middle of the road and went into the forest to look for the second lane. He couldn’t believe that such a narrow road can be a two-way,” tells one of the drivers of the Polish command company.
autor zdjęć: arch. 10 BKPanc