This run honors soldiers who died on missions.
Both soldiers and civilians lined up on the starting line. They took part in the Sgt Marcin “Pasta” Pastusiak and Cpl Grzegorz “Bukoś” Bukowski 7th Run for the Fallen Military Police Soldiers. As usual, each of the ten Military Police units sent several representatives to participate in the run. “It is a big honor for our sons,” admit the mothers of the fallen soldiers, Barbara Pastusiak and Bożena Bukowska. “We wait for this run every year. We don’t mark the date on our calendars, because it is etched on our memory,” adds Maja Bukowska, Grzegorz Bukowski’s sister.
Both soldiers served at the Military Police Special Unit (OSŻW) in Mińsk Mazowiecki. Both of them were killed on a mission in Afghanistan. Cpl Grzegorz Bukowski died in 2010, wounded with splinters of an exploding missile when Taliban rebels attacked the Warrior base. He was a driver of the Operational Training and Advisory Group for Police-Related Matters. Sgt Marcin Pastusiak also served in this group as a junior operator. He died in 2011 when a bomb exploded under a Rosomak he was in.
OSŻW soldiers still remember their two fellows who died executing tasks abroad (up to now, over 1,700 Military Police Soldiers have been on missions, in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Georgia, or the Central African Republic). Streets in the unit have been named after them. There is also a stone with a commemorative plaque. LtCol Sławomir Chmiel, OSŻW’s head of training, knew the fallen military policemen well. Marcin appeared before a committee qualifying soldiers for the mission in Afghanistan, in which Chmiel was sitting, and Grzegorz’s company was a part of a battalion commanded by Chmiel. He met the soldiers’ families only after their death, when he organized the funerals. During the several years that passed from that time, military policemen from Mińsk kept in close contact with Barbara Pastusiak and Bożena Bukowska. “They are our family,” says about the two women Renata Dryl, a psychologist at the Military Police Special Unit.
The Run for the Fallen Military Police Soldiers takes place in Mińsk Mazowiecki every year at the end of April. On the day of the run, Barbara Pastusiak puts on Marcin’s combat uniform. It came from Afghanistan together with the coffin. She also takes out her son’s t-shirt from a backpack. She has never washed it, but after eight years, as she says, “it doesn’t smell like Marcin anymore.” She puts on army boots, the start number “2,” and ties a kufiya around her neck. It also belonged to Marcin, there were traces of his blood on it. This is how she prepares for the run. She covers the 10-kilometer distance on a bicycle, because she cannot strain her bad knee.
Maja Bukowska, Grzegorz’s sister, had also been planning to take part in this year’s run. She had been preparing for it for the last few months – strengthening her muscles at the gym and running regularly. The longest distance she covered was 6 kilometers. However, in the end she decided she was not ready to face the challenge. “Maybe next year,” she declares.
Also LtCol Arkadiusz Wojtaczek, deputy commander, chief of staff, decided not to participate this year. He jokes that he only takes part in even runs: the second, the fourth, and the sixth one. Always in his uniform, which makes it much harder than in the case of people wearing sports clothes. With each kilometer, the boots become heavier. In the middle of the run, you reach a critical point, but you pull yourself together and refuse to give up. After the sixth kilometer it is easier – you know the finish line is getting closer.
Konrad Suchecki participated in the first editions of the run. He was on the same patrol on which “Pasta” died, only in the next WAV. He remembers that “the run wasn’t hard, because no one really ran to get the best result, but simply to reach the finish line and to honor the boys’ memory.” In later editions of the run, also civilians were allowed to participate. They could compete in sports clothes. Since its fourth edition, the run has also been organized in Kosovo, where military policemen from Mińsk Mazowiecki serve with every rotation. They always run in uniforms.
Before the run, all the participants gathered near the mentioned stone with the plaque, reading: “In memory of the unit’s soldiers who died on a mission in Afghanistan,” in order to honor the fallen fellows with a minute of silence and to light candles. They set off at 11 a.m. – military policemen, soldiers of friendly units and uniformed services, and civilians. When Grażyna Bukowska, number “1,” fired from her pistol, 174 competitors began the run. They had to cover 10 km, running along the streets of Mińsk Mazowiecki. “If you look at the route from up above, you can make out the shape of a rifle,” says Sgt Mariusz Murawski, the organizer of the run and the president of the “Zielono-Czarni” sports club.
“For me, it’s a very special run. I was very motivated, because I had been on a mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina with Grzegorz. I gave everything I had, and I took sixth place in the open category,” says Sgt Murawski, who trains regularly and covers over 70 km a week. On the finish line, everyone got a commemorative medal, and the winners of each of the 12 categories received cups and prizes from sponsors. The oldest participant was 64, the youngest – 18. Competitors included 77 civilians (57 men and 20 women), and 96 representatives of uniformed services (81 men and 15 women), including 64 military policemen. The best runner, Maciej Badurek, reached the finish line in only 33 minutes and 33 seconds. The best uniformed participant finished the run in 41 minutes.
This year’s edition of the run welcomed a special guest – PlLdr Sylwia Bogacka, a runner-up in the women’s 10 meter air rifle event at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, a soldier of the Military Sports Team at the Communications and IT Training Center in Zgierz. She came to Mińsk to cheer on the competitors. She understands the pain suffered by mothers who have lost their sons. “Soldiers not only fight to keep us safe, but also help us on a daily basis. If I can support their families with a kind word, or simply by being present, I just do it,” she says.
“Maybe it will sound like I am exaggerating, but I am trying to find a piece of my son in his friends. It is important for me that they remember. It’s hard to explain, but me and my daughter both draw enormous strength from this run,” admits Bożena Bukowska. “This run is like a drug, like Red Bull – it gives you wings,” adds Barbara Pastusiak.
Both women have close relationship with their sons’ colleagues. They meet during official celebrations, but also outside them. Barbara Pastusiak used the compensation money she got after her son’s death to build a house near Jelenia Góra. She called in “Marcinkowo,” and invites Marcin’s friends and other veterans. “They are my boys,” she says about the soldiers from her son’s company. Some of them were on a mission with him, others served in the same unit in Mińsk Mazowiecki. They always greet her with: “Hey, mom!” Today, they work at various units all over Poland, but they always meet together at “Marcinkowo” on the occasion of the run. They reminisce.
“Pasta’s” friends visit Barbara Pastusiak at “Marcinkowo” at least twice a year. “Our unit’s commanders always support these contacts,” says Konrad Suchecki, who this time also took his wife and daughter with him. In Afghanistan, he was stationing at the base in the Qarabagh district, so he did not attend the farewell of Sgt Pastusiak in Ghazni, from where his coffin was sent to Poland. When the 8th rotation finished in the spring of 2011, he went with his colleagues to Łódź to visit Marcin’s grave. Then he met Barbara.
“Our visits to »Marcinkowo« are also a chance to reminisce about Marcin: that he liked hiking in the mountains, he made the best pierogi, he was a big fan of Widzew Łódź. There are memories, laughter, sometimes also tears,” says Cpl Jarosław Muzyka. He recently visited Barbara during the winter holidays. He was in the same platoon as “Pasta,” they went to Afghanistan with the same rotation.
“In the spring we help Barbara plant new flowers in the garden, in the fall we prepare the garden for winter and stock up on wood,” says Cpl Łukasz Goździk, who served with Marcin in one company. He says he has already taken part in four runs, although he would rather do bench presses than run. He does it to honor his friend, because he feels in his heart he needs to do it. He runs because he knows that Barbara is waiting at the finish line to put a medal on his neck.
After 3 p.m. the last contestants leave the unit in Mińsk. Barbara Pastusiak and Bożena Bukowska want to light another candle below the plaque commemorating their sons. Everyone is looking at the flickering flames for a long while. “See you,” says Barbara before leaving. She has never said anything else when saying goodbye to her son.
autor zdjęć: Leszek Siporski