POWIDZ, Poland –
On Feb 10, 2021, 45 Soldiers from the 297th Regional Support Group and other units from Base Camp Powidz were invited to a tour of the Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń in Poland, one of Poland's largest churches.
Soldiers were given the opportunity to learn the history of the Basilica and visit the Kolekcja Musuem which had priceless Polish artifacts dating back 500 years. The museum’s curator, Patryk Kazus explained the in-depth history behind the artifacts.
Kazus and other museum personnel guided Soldiers to the back room and presented on the shared history between the U.S. and Poland.
They discussed two well-known generals who assisted America during the Revolutionary War. Casimir Pulaski, better known as the “father of the American cavalry” was mortally wounded at the Siege of Savannah. Today, Illinois recognizes “Casmir Pulaski Day” as a legal state holiday on the first Monday of March.
The other general was General Thaddeus Kosciuszko. During the Revolutionary War, Kosciuszko assisted West Point with its fortifications and is credited with being the mastermind behind the victory of the Battle of Saratoga. He advocated for the establishment of an American military school for officers that would later become known as West Point.
After the main presentation Kazus’s assistant took out Poland’s original copy of the Declaration of Independence and displayed it for the Soldiers.
The group was allowed to touch and handle British swords from the American Revolution. Soldiers were moved by the kind gesture and took advantage of the history brought before them, taking pictures of the artifacts.
“It was fascinating to learn how integrated Polish and United States history is”, said Spc. Delaney Pletsch, an intelligence analyst assigned to the 297th RSG. “What is more fascinating is how uncommon knowledge the joint history is. It was heartwarming to be introduced to the historical partnership between Poland and the United States since the inception of the United States. It provides insight and deeper meaning to our mission here in Poland”.
Some history that was a surprise to most of the 297th RSG Soldiers was that during the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921), American Capt. Merian C. Cooper recruited eight pilots to volunteer to assist Poland in their fight against the Soviets. They were assigned to the 303rd, Kosciuszko Squadron. One of Cooper’s motives behind assisting Poland was that his grandfather, John Cooper, served under Casimir Pulaski during the Siege of Savannah and was considered a friend.
The 297th Supply NCO Staff Sgt. Jennessy Buendia knew the U.S. and Poland were close allies. However, during the tour, she learned that the alliance dated back further than she knew.
“I was amazed by this shared history, and it strengthened my already positive feelings toward Poland since we have dramatically influenced each other’s destinies.”, said Buendia.
This musuem staff’s sincere hospitality to the group is a good example of how the 297th RSG’s deployment has been received in Poland. Since the 297th RSG set foot in Poland, the Polish people have been gracious and enthusiastic about sharing their history and culture as well as the history our two nations have shared through thick and thin.
Since the 297th RSG first arrived, mayor of Powidz, Jakub Gwit, and his staff have been gracious, and supportive of our shared mission to keep Poland and Europe safe. Throughout the 297th RSGs 11 forward operating sites, mayors and their staff have been equally gracious.
Monika Andrzejewska, Public Relations Representative for Powidz was amazing to work with on community, and relations with the 297th RSG commander and staff.
Powidz’s Cultural Director, Robert Czechorowski, has been an attentive host to the 297th and Base Camp Powidz Soldiers. Over the last several months, Czechorowski has invited Soldiers to several cultural events that have strengthened Polish/American ties. Highlights included a Celtic music concert, and a walking tour of Powidz, where Czechorowski gave a historical account of the town and its memorials. Czechorowski also gave Soldiers advice on the best places to visit on their beautiful beach lakefront for rest and relaxation.
One activity that will have an enduring impact was creating the Lake Powidz mural. Soldiers from Base Camp Powidz came together with the Polish community to paint a mural symbolizing our shared history, values, goals and the commitment to Poland’s defense.
Another highlight has been the collaboration between Polish Marine Pastor Chaplain Jelinek and 297th Chaplain Byungho Kim, which has strengthened cultural and religious ties between the two nations. A memorable event was the Polish Armed Forces Day ceremony that Chaplain Jelinek graciously hosted at the Evangelical-Reformed Parish in Zychlina. On that day, Chaplain Jelinek and Chaplain Byungho Kim prayed for Polish and American forces. After the service, rising star, pianist 12-year-old Antonina Waliszewska gave a recital. She performed works by Fryderyk Chopin, who was known to have played in the very same ballroom.
On time shared with the 297th RSG Jelinek said, “Our time spent with the 297th RSG was a shared war against an invisible enemy, the virus. It limited the formation of our closer relationships. What remained however, was an ecumenical service recorded for Polish television with the participation of the American chaplain, a farewell service and plans for the future”.
297th RSG Soldiers also enjoyed supporting the community, including helping disadvantaged children at local orphanages. They visited “The Special Educational Center of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gniezno.”
Anna Szyda and Małgorzata Szyda-Błaszak helped organize the Soldier’s visits to the orphanage and served as interpreters during visits. Małgorzata Szyda-Błaszak who is an attorney was instrumental in the inspiration to invite Soldiers to the Basilica and joined the Soldiers on the tour.
“Building good and lasting relations between Poland and the United States is a matter of great importance, said Szyda-Blaszak. The shared history of our two nations began at a time when the U.S. was fighting for its independence. The foundations of this history are joint Polish-American military relations. The Founding Fathers of the U.S with the outstanding commanders of the then U.S Army, together with the great heroes of our Polish nation -, Kazimierz Pułaski, and Tadeusz Kościuszko, began a noble part of our history”.
“The history lesson at the Lichen Basilica Museum is proof of the exceptionally strong and solid foundations of Polish - American military cooperation. The history of our two nations continues and unfolds before our eyes. I am so proud and honored to have taken part in the lesson together with American soldiers”.
“The Basilica Tour served as a cultural historical engagement and helped to build the morale and resilience of the Soldiers in attendance,” said Chaplain Kim. “Soldiers were given the opportunity to experience a different faith group’s tradition in the unique setting of the Basilica.”
After the great hospitality that the 297th RSG has been given by their Polish hosts, a question arises. What makes a good Ally? Brittanica.com defines an alliance as “a formal agreement between two or more states for mutual support in case of war”.
To get another definition, we asked our Judge Advocate General Officer, Capt. Carole A. Holley, what determined a good Ally.
“I would define a good Ally as someone who is willing to build a relationship based on trust and accountability, where both parties provide an opportunity for growth and learning while also building confidence in others.” said Holley. “Together, we lift each other up. It requires a continual investment of time and resources and the willingness to acknowledge mistakes or missteps and then a willingness to adapt and change as needed to continue the relationship.”
As the 297th’s time in Poland winds down, 297th RSG Soldiers will look back on the Basilica tour and other events shared with the Polish people and military as treasured moments that they spent with Polish allies.