Americans have decided to significantly increase the strength of their forces in Poland. What have been the benefits of the US Army’s presence in Poland in the recent years, and what can it bring in the future?
“My name is John Kolasheski and I’m an American soldier, proud of his service in Europe,” emphasized the commander of the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division at the beginning of August 2020, while accepting his promotion to the rank of lieutenant general at the Kościuszko Mound in Cracow. After this introduction, the officer told the story of his family. His relatives came from Poland. His grandfather lived in the village of Chmielów, and emigrated to the USA at the beginning of the 20th century to look for work and better life. Gen Kolasheski will soon return to the country of his ancestors for longer. He will take command of the newly reactivated US Army V Corps, whose forward headquarters will be established in Poznań.
The dislocation is only one of the effects of the agreement between Poland and the USA – the agreement that will take the cooperation between the two countries to a whole new level.
Like One Tank Crew Member to Another
Recently, there have already been a few breakthrough moments concerning the presence of the American forces in Poland. The arrival of the Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) detachments three years ago was the most important one to date. By virtue of the decisions taken at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, almost 3,500 US soldiers with 87 Abrams tanks, 144 Bradley fighting vehicles, 18 Paladin self-propelled howitzers and other equipment came to bases located in Żagań, Świętoszów, Bolesławiec and Skwierzyna. The redeployment was an element of Operation Atlantic Resolve, aimed at augmenting NATO’s presence on the so-called eastern flank, as a response to Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior.
“Yes, at that moment I did feel we were beginning an entirely new chapter,” admits MajGen Dariusz Parylak, Commander of the 11th Lubuska Armored Cavalry Division in Żagań, who in 2017 was still the Commander of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade. “I knew Americans well: from college, from foreign missions, from many exercises we attended together. This time, however, we weren’t supposed to meet at a proving ground or at a patrol, where we carry out tasks given to us and later everyone goes their own way. This time the Allies were coming to stay for good, to be included to some degree in our army’s training cycle. That had never happened in Poland before,” he adds.
It took long months for the garrison in Żagań to prepare for the arrival of the US Army soldiers. “Adaptation work was carried out not only in the barracks, but also at the neighboring training area where we built a completely new camp site almost from scratch. As formerly arranged, our US Army guests were to rotate every nine months or so. We needed to find out what units would be coming to us and learn something about them, so we had liaison groups constantly travelling between Poland and the USA,” recalls LtCol Paweł Cupa, head of the department that deals with civil-military cooperation at the Żagań Division. Despite all the hard work and preparations, it was quite hard at the beginning. “Perfect scenario?” – says Gen. Parylak – “I invite American officers to my office, we hand out orders to the commanders of our platoons, we say: »Ok, let’s get to work,« and they start to train together. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. There are too many differences. Everyone has their own procedures, equipment, past experiences. The first thing to do is to get to know one another. So, we decided to start with tuning together soldiers representing particular types of arms. Tank crews will train with tank crews, sappers with sappers, logistics officers with logistics officers. Even when there is a language barrier, they will be able to communicate due to the specific character of their professions – a bit like surgeons who will always find common ground.” Soon, the soldiers were ready to move forward. During exercises, American tanks executed tasks together with Polish infantry and anti-aircraft troops. Polish tank crews, in turn, were supported by US detachments with mortars. “We were assigned to cooperate with an American armored cavalry battalion. We used every possible opportunity to train,” recalls Gen Parylak.
On the other hand, the successive ABCT rotations were always on the move. Staying in Poland provided the US Army soldiers with quick access to the whole eastern flank. It is easy to see how much they actually travelled around by looking at the calculations prepared by the commander of the second rotation, Col Patrick Michaelis of the 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood. Within less than a year, his soldiers took part in 20 international exercises – in Poland, Slovakia, but also in Romania and Bulgaria. They even went to Georgia to participate in Exercise Noble Partner. As Col Michaelis informed, during all these undertakings American tanks fired almost 7,500 projectiles, and Bradleys – close to 40,000. The soldiers themselves used their hand arms 1,8 million times.
“The biggest challenge for us was Exercise Combined Resolve XIII. It was organized at the beginning of the year at the Hohenfels Training Area in Germany. The staff we formed took command of several brigades, including the American ABCT. Our soldiers were present at all levels of the training, including battalion tasks in the field,” recalls Gen Parylak, adding that: “We had been working for many years to get to where we are now.”
Wings Over Africa
Shortly after the ABCT’s first rotation came to Żagań, other US Army soldiers arrived in eastern Poland. They were assigned to one of NATO’s four enhanced Forward Presence battalion-sized battle groups formed by virtue of the decisions taken at the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Three groups have been deployed in the Baltic states, and the fourth one – Battle Group Poland, was to be stationed near Orzysz. Apart from 900 US soldiers, it consisted also of British and Romanian troops. Soon, they were joined by soldiers from Croatia. The unit assigned to cooperate with the Allies was the 15th Mechanized Brigade from Giżycko. Its commander at the time, MajGen Jarosław Gromadziński, recalls: “We were dealing with a totally new structure, so there were no guidelines for the cooperation. We had to work out all the solutions on our own, and we literally had to modify almost every aspect of our activity, from the training system to the command.”
In order for the cooperation with the Allies to be most effective, a Battalion Task Force Group was created within the 15th Brigade. Its core, in rotation, are the 1st and the 2nd Mechanized Battalion, supported by anti-aircraft troops, sappers, logistics officers, forward observers, and even a company of Leopard tanks of the 1st Armored Brigade.
American soldiers come to Orzysz from Germany or directly from the USA. In the first case, they rotate every six months, in the second – every nine months. Almost every rotation brings something new to the table. Initially, for example, the Americans’ basic equipment were, i.a., Stryker armored vehicles with Mobile Gun Systems (MGS) or machine guns, which were later replaced by a new version with a turret system and a 30-mm semi-automatic cannon. Americans also brought Abrams tanks and Bradley vehicles to Mazury.
Regular Army troops are not the only soldiers to serve in Battle Group Poland. For 18 months, the US Army National Guard detachments were also deployed. “The main goal of our cooperation is to build interoperability, and such frequent rotations don’t make this task easy. Every time, we practically have to synchronize our detachments from scratch,” admits LtCol Wojciech Kurzawa, Commander of the 1st Mechanized Battalion of the 15th Mechanized Brigade.
His words are confirmed by LtCol Adam Krysiak, the current Commander of the Battalion Task Force Group. However, he immediately adds that the cooperation with the Allies has many benefits. “Americans are very experienced when it comes to CCA and CAS procedures, which are generally about support from the air. We gladly take advantage of this knowledge,” he emphasizes. He also adds that the soldiers paid a lot of attention to synchronizing communication. “Every army uses a different system. It wasn’t easy to sync everything, but we managed to do it, and now we have more capabilities than before.”
They Know Each Other Well
Since the arrival of the Allies in Mazury, the soldiers have not only been exercising on the proving ground, but also outside it. The new type of rapid response exercise is called “Bull Run” by the soldiers. The drill begins with an alert to the troops, who then leave the units and relocate to the pre-determined positions in the Rospuda Valley region. “The objective is to check how fast soldiers are able to react in an emergency. Besides, it is a great opportunity to verify routes, or the load-bearing capacity of roads and bridges,” explained LtCol Krysiak. Each rotation does this exercise twice. Sometimes soldiers spend several days in the field, and one edition of the exercise was organized in winter.
The Battle Group rotation that is currently stationing in Mazury is already the seventh one. This rotation is supervised by the soldiers of the US Army 2nd Cavalry Regiment. They already came to Poland once, in 2017. “We already know each other very well, and that’s why our cooperation runs very smoothly,” ensures BrigGen Bogdan Rycerski, Commander of the 15th MB. American rotations started coming to Poland much earlier, though. In 2012, we welcomed 10 soldiers of the American Aviation Detachment. They were to assist in the preparations to upcoming visits of fighters and carrier aircraft. Americans representing both types of aviation came to Poland alternately, usually twice a year. “We trained together, but our contacts started much earlier,” admits one of the pilots of the 3rd Transport Aviation Wing. “In 2009, Americans helped us to redeploy the C-130 Hercules – the first aircraft of this type in Poland. Thanks to their recommendations and help we were able to participate in large, prestigious exercises. In 2012, together with our F-16 pilots, we took part in Exercise Red Flag in the USA, and then we flew twice to Africa to take part in Exercise Flint Lock,” he adds. Simply put: we joined the elite.
Taxi for a Soldier
“When Americans were coming to stay here, we decided they won’t stay in the barracks or on the training area all the time. They will want to go out in their free time, have some fun, do some sightseeing,” says Grzegorz Lech, a taxi driver and entrepreneur from Świętoszów. “We were right. I drove them around in my taxi quite a lot. They went to Żagań or Bolesławiec, where they would rent cars and take trips to other places. So I thought: why not set up a rent-a-car business here?,” he recalls. Soon, he had his own company. “In fact, I was a little dependent on the Americans. Poles don’t usually rent cars. They have their own, or they simply can’t afford it. Sometimes business was better, sometimes worse, and unfortunately we took quite a hit due to the pandemic. I hope everything goes back to normal soon, because I am not the only one who invested here. My brother, for instance, opened a bowling alley and a kebab bar,” says Lech.
“Bar or restaurant owners have certainly gained a lot since the Americans came to town. But, truth be told, we are still counting on more,” says Agnieszka Zychla, an employee of the City Hall in Żagań. “At the beginning of September, Americans invited local entrepreneurs to a meeting regarding supplies for their soldiers. Earlier, they would buy cleaning agents or groceries outside Poland, but now they are ready to purchase them here. Of course, business owners must learn about the American ordering system, comply with all the formalities. They have a long way to go and a lot of things to take care of, but still the level of interest in the cooperation was very high. Over 120 representatives of mainly local businesses came to the meeting. Even if only some of them manage to sign contracts, that will still be something,” says Zychla. There is more: “We also hope to get some financing from the state budget. We are planning, for example, to build a beltway around Żagań. It would be great if the presence of American troops became a bargaining chip in obtaining funds for similar investments. This is certainly a serious opportunity for our town and the whole region,” she concludes.
The officials from eastern Poland also see a chance for a civilization leap. “The decision to deploy Battle Group Poland in Orzysz surely turned out to be a real incentive to our town,” admits Zbigniew Włodkowski, the Mayor of Orzysz. “The presence of NATO soldiers draws a lot of attention of the national and foreign media, which in turn helps to promote Orzysz with the slogan we have been popularizing for the last five years: »Orzysz – the Military Capital of Poland«,” he emphasizes. Foreign troops are deployed in the town all year round, so they really contribute to the situation of local businesses. “There are new lodging places, catering facilities, services, trade is developing. On top of that, there are new big investments in military and road infrastructure,” enumerates Mayor Włodkowski. The result? The unemployment rate in the commune has been reduced to only 4%.
Less in Europe, More in Poland
In recent years, the US Army has been consequently increasing the number of American soldiers in Poland. Currently, apart from the already mentioned places, they are also deployed in other cities, such as Mirosławiec (detachment with Reaper UAVs), or Poznań, where the US Division Headquarters (Forward) was established in October 2019. Now, however, Poland is about to make a real leap forward. On the strength of two agreements signed by Polish and US Presidents, Donald Trump and Andrzej Duda, another thousand US soldiers will be withdrawn from Germany and redeployed to Poland. Also, their presence in our country will change from rotational to permanent. The forward headquarters of the V Corps will begin its operation in Poznań, with a personnel of 200 soldiers who will arrive in Poland in the first half of 2021. The Corps is to be the main participant of Exercise Defender Europe planned for next year. The exercise will be held in the Black Sea region. Similar to this year, during Defender Europe 2021 Americans want to test rapid redeployment of their forces from the USA to Europe.
This is merely the beginning. Due to the arrival of new US detachments, Poland will have to make extensive investments in military infrastructure. “Issues connected with preparing the facilities and the grounds in places where the US forces will be stationed are our main priority,” ensures the Operational Center of the Minister of National Defense, responding to the questions asked by Polska Zbrojna. “Investment tasks included in the agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation [...] are now in the phase of making arrangements with the American side,” says the letter. The most extensive work will be undertaken at the seat of the mentioned the V Corps Headquarters and the Combat Training Center in Drawsko Pomorskie.
The modernization of the training area in Drawsko Pomorskie is spread over several years and is to cost several hundred million zlotys. One of the newly installed technologies will be the electronic warfare system. Soldiers and vehicles will be equipped with sensors, and weapons with appropriate transmitters. The former will inform the shot fired by the adversary hit the target, and the latter that the adversary has been hit. This way, the detachments will be able to fight virtual battles in real conditions. “The Armament Inspectorate is making preparations to purchase an appropriate system and we are recruiting staff. Our soldiers regularly take part in trainings,” explains Col Marek Gmurski, Commander of the Land Forces Training Center Drawsko. In September, the staff of the center also went to Hohenfels, Germany, to observe how the local training area had been prepared for exercises. The Combat Training Center, which is currently being created in Drawsko, is to be available for training to all NATO armies.
Work on the arms depot in Powidz, which is to be opened next year, has also been commenced. The warehouse will be capable of holding the equipment of an armored brigade, e.g. 85 Abrams tanks. Americans have similar storage facilities in Western Europe. They were used, for instance, during Exercise Defender Europe in 2020. Soldiers redeployed from the USA used the equipment stored at the training area. The Polish and American contract also set Powidz as the base of the Combat Aviation Brigade and a special forces facility. A similar facility is to be created in Lubliniec, while Łask will be the seat of a squadron of remotely operated aircraft. Żagań and Świętoszów will still house the ABCT, and the Wrocław-Strachowice airport was designated as the seat of the USAF loading and unloading airbase. In July, the local District Infrastructure Board announced a tender for preparing pre-project documentation. According to the assumptions, almost a hundred various facilities will undergo modernization within an area of 105 ha. The work should be finalized in 2025.
The costs Poland will incur in connection with the American forces stationing in Poland are estimated at around 500 million zlotys. The Ministry of Defense ensures, though, that Americans will not create a state within a state. The soldiers will always be governed by the Polish law, except for instances of negligence in executing their professional duties.
Waiting for Changes
“Americans have recently decided to withdraw some of their forces from Germany, and, consequently, to reduce their military presence in Europe. This may certainly be a reason for concern. On the other hand, relocating elements of the V Corps Headquarters to Poland is a clear sign that the USA is still ready to protect its Allies in the event of a threat, and it is implementing security measures in case of a potential clash with Russia,” emphasizes Wojciech Lorenz of the Polish Institute of International Affairs. “Today, the US Army is focusing on quick redeployment of forces to the regions of potential conflict, and it is likely to intensively practice and train this capability in the upcoming years. The command structures created by the Americans in Poland enable them to organize frequent maneuvers on a brigade or division level, which also creates big opportunities for our own army. This way, it’s easier to build interoperability,” explains the expert.
Gen Dariusz Parylak of the 11th Armored Cavalry Division raises a similar issue: “I hope that the enhanced American presence will enable us to take the training to a higher level. If the subsequent rotations don’t change every several months, we should be able to introduce new elements to the training. I am very curious what this change will bring,” he says. Local governments also have their expectations. “A thousand new soldiers are to come to Poland. Even if only half of them is stationed in Żagań, it can mean a big change for us: investments in infrastructure, and another chance for our inhabitants to make a profit. We are counting on that, since in the new plans our region is still the main location of the US Army troops in Poland,” summarizes Agnieszka Zychla.
The American-Polish partnership has never been as strong as it is now. Last year, Poland joined the Visa Waiver Program, and in August 2020 the two countries signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), one of the most important agreements in the history of our relations. It is undoubtedly a milestone for NATO, as well as for Poland and the USA, and it will determine defense-related cooperation between the two countries in the upcoming decades.
EDCA is similar to the agreements signed by the USA with other countries. It grants the American armed forces necessary rights to access particular military facilities in Poland and carry out activities for common defense. It also brings many economic benefits, as the in kind contribution made by Poland based on the agreement will directly benefit national economy. The Forward Division Headquarters of the US Army V Corps is starting its operation in Poznań. Its tasks will include operational planning and command over the rotational presence of US forces in Europe. It will also provide additional possibilities to support Allies and partners in the region.
The American public opinion regards Poland as the backbone of defense in Central Europe. Strong and safe Poland means strong and safe USA and NATO. I am proud to have the opportunity to work together with Poland for the benefit of strengthening our defense cooperation.
Georgette Mosbacher is the United States Ambassador to Poland.
American Forces in Poland
- Command of the Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) in Żagań and the ABCT components in Skwierzyna, Bolesławiec, Świętoszów and Toruń;
- The Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) in Powidz. The detachment stationing in Poland is a task force equipped with Apache and Black Hawk helicopters;
- The Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB) in Powidz. Logistics unit;
- The US Division Headquarters (Forward) in Poznań;
- Air base in Łask. Training rotations are equipped with mainly the F-16 and the C-130 aircraft;
- MQ-9 Reaper UAVs component in Mirosławiec;
- Anti-missile defense base in Redzikowo (under construction);
- The eFP Battle Group Poland in Bemowo Piskie near Orzysz, where the majority of soldiers are US troops. They serve under the auspices of NATO. Apart from them, the group includes troops from Great Britain, Romania and Croatia.
On the strength of the recently signed agreements on the enhanced presence of the US forces in Poland, there will be new institutions connected with the US Army created in Poland:
- US Army V Corps Headquarters (Forward) in Poznań;
- Combat Training Center in Drawsko Pomorskie;
- USAF loading and unloading airbase in Wrocław-Strachowice;
- Remotely operated aircraft base in Łask;
- Special forces facility in Lubliniec;
- Armament depots in Powidz.
Building a Bond
Poland has been developing military cooperation with the USA for years now. Joint defense-related activities started in the early 1990s, before our accession to NATO. They involved, i.a., support of the US 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Delta Force) during the formation of the Polish GROM, and from 1994 joint exercises within the Partnership for Peace program. The cooperation was intensified when in 1994 Poland joined NATO. Polish and American soldiers have for years taken part together in various exercises, such as Anakonda, Saber Strike, or the Baltops maneuvers.
After 9/11 attacks, the cooperation with the USA was extended. Poland joined the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and later NATO’s ISAF mission in this country. In 2003, we sent our soldiers to Iraq with the American mission Iraqi Freedom.
Another important step was the American-Polish agreement concluded on August 20, 2008, on locating in Poland elements of the US missile defense system, i.e. anti-ballistic interceptor missiles of the Patriot system. The initial concept of the then American President, George W. Bush, which assumed locating in Poland a long-range missile base that was primarily intended to defend the American territory against ballistic missile attacks from the Middle East, changed during the presidency of Barack Obama. It was agreed then that the European element of the shield would use shorter-range SM-3 missiles. According to the contract signed with the USA, a missile defense base in Redzikowo started to be built in May 2016.
The cooperation is also being tightened during joint trainings of Polish and American airmen, made possible by the agreement signed in 2011, on the basis of which a small ground Aviation Detachment is stationing at the 32nd Tactical Air Base in Łask. It organizes rotational trainings of US detachments with the F-16 fighters and C-130 Hercules carriers in Poland.
A real breakthrough came in 2014, after the Russian aggression on Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. As a result of these events, the USA increased its support for Poland and the Baltic States. The American administration proposed strengthening the region in the form of the so-called European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), part of which is Operation Atlantic Resolve, ensuring permanent rotational presence of the US forces in Eastern-Central Europe. Within the mission, detachments of the Armored Brigade Combat Team came to Poland at the beginning of 2017. The brigade is deployed in Bolesławiec, Świętoszów, Żagań, Skwierzyna, and other places. The formation is supported by the US Army Combat Aviation Brigade in Powidz, with attack and transport helicopters, a UAV component located in Mirosławiec, and logistic support detachments in Powidz. In May 2017, a part of the Atlantic Resolve command was moved from Germany to Poznań, and in 2019, it was turned into the Forward Division Command for the US Army. At the same time, the USA is also a framework nation for one of NATO’s eFP (enhanced Forward Presence) Battle Groups, stationing near Orzysz.
For years, the USA has been an important supplier of equipment and armament for Poland. In 2003, within the framework of bilateral military cooperation, we signed an agreement on the procurement of 48 American F-16 multi-role fighters. In 2012, the last of the five C-130E Hercules aircraft transferred to Poland as non-reimbursable military aid arrived at the 33rd Transport Aviation Base in Powidz, and in 2014 we purchased JASSM long-range precision-guided missiles.
Four years later, an agreement to procure anti-aircraft and anti-missile Patriot sets was signed as part of the Wisła medium-range air defense program. The first phase of the program provides for procuring two batteries of the Patriot system, together with advanced technologies which will be transferred to Poland on the basis of the negotiated offset agreement. The delivery of the batteries is to be completed by the end of 2022. Moreover, at the beginning of 2020, the Polish Minister of National Defense signed a contract to purchase 32 F-35A multi-role 5th generation fighters.
autor zdjęć: st. chor. sztab. mar. Arkadiusz Dwulatek / CC DORSZ, st. chor. sztab. Adam Roik / CC DORSZ