The military airport in Powidz is the main transport base of the Polish army. Being the largest in Poland and one of the largest in Europe, it is of strategic importance for NATO armed forces. American soldiers have been stationed there for a few months now. Colonel Dariusz Płóciennik, the commander of the 33rd Air Transport Base in Powidz, talks about the purpose of this mission and changes caused by the presence of Americans in a conversation with Marzena Zbierska

Since January, the base in Powidz has been a place of operations conducted by American troops. Today it is known that by the end of the year, even a few hundred Americans will have been accommodated in the unit in Powidz. However, this will not be a fixed number and a permanent composition…

That’s right. The number of American soldiers stationed in Powidz is variable. A rotation takes place every few months. Some of them come back, whereas others arrive. The mission in Poland is currently conducted in two units. At the beginning of this year, soldiers belonging to the logistics unit Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and the Combat Aviation Brigade, that is the helicopter brigade, arrived.

Please tell me more about the purpose of this mission. What are the tasks of American soldiers in Powidz?

Americans from Combat Sustainment Support Battalion are stationed in many locations in Europe, including Powidz. Their task is to support American units in this part of Europe in terms of logistics. As a logistics unit, they support other US military units during international exercises. They deal with the transfer of military equipment and its servicing for the purpose of joint exercises. This equipment includes, among others, combat vehicles, fuel tanks, or engineer equipment. The Aviation Brigade mainly performs manoeuvres and does aerial training in Black Hawk helicopters. There are currently a few such helicopters in Powidz. Yet, in the future, more of them will be stationed in this unit.

The military base in Powidz is the only one in Poland, where four types of aircraft are operated: C-130 Hercules, Mi-17, W-3 Sokół and M-28 Bryza. The crew from Powidz carries out joint flights with the Americans. Moreover, the Polish soldiers go to training bases in the US. How frequent are the visits overseas?

Training our pilots and other flight crew members is a priority. Many of them receive regular flight simulator training, at least twice a year, in Florida in the US. This applies not only to pilots, but also navigators, the on-board technicians, or loading technicians.

Therefore, Polish-American contacts can be viewed as a long-term cooperation and it allows building relationships, not just with regard to business. Can you already give any examples of such integration between the Polish and the American soldiers that is not related to professional responsibilities?

Yes. The attitude of the Americans towards the Poles is very friendly. Their stay in Poland takes the form of a mission, so they live in our country without their families. That’s why they are eager to spend their free time with the Poles, they want to integrate and make contacts with the local community. What is more, the presence of the Americans changes the attitude adopted by the Poles too. We are also becoming more open to contacts with foreigners. English can be heard almost everywhere in Powidz, not only in the military unit.

What activities are the best to establish relationships? Sport and recreation or perhaps charitable activities…

Both of them. The Americans participate in many of our ventures that take place outside the unit. They are eager to take part in sporting competitions and races. They are young people, mostly men, but women also remain in service. Sport takes a lot of their free time and it provides an escape from the daily routine. They use every opportunity. I can mention one example, that is the visit of Marcin Gortat in our unit and the meeting with children at school in Witkowo and then at our airport, in the hangar. After the visit, we received invitations to the match Gortat Team vs. the Polish Army in Łódź, which took place in July. The Americans created a joint team with us and participated in that match. After the last violent storm, numerous American soldiers declared help in removing fallen trees, which proves that they want to help and engage spontaneously in local initiatives.

A military character of Powidz has another important meaning for this place too. The 33rd Air Transport Base is the workplace for 1500 people, which allows stating that it is one of the largest employers in the region. The presence of Americans strengthens the importance of the unit for the economic development of the area because they constitute a big group of consumers. The local business can benefit from it.

I do not have the exact data, but I know from conversations and observations that due to more traffic and new customers, local companies employ workers and open, for example, new catering points. Indeed, the presence of the Americans influences the local business. It is a new group of potential customers who can be offered a lot of products and services that the local companies are famous for. Not only can bars and restaurants benefit from it, but also service points and shops.

Let’s clarify at the end… We are talking at the moment, when you serve two functions: the Deputy Commander and concurrently the Acting Commander of the Base in Powidz. The interview will be published already after the change of Commander. You will remain the Deputy. Are you happy to hand over some of your duties?

For the last few months, I have been working hard owing to the fact that I have served both functions. I have spent almost whole days in the unit and handing over some of my duties will allow me to relax a bit, indeed. The new Commander (the nomination took place on 4th September 2017 – editor’s note) is Colonel pilot Grzegorz Kołodziejczyk, who is currently the head of the training of 3rd Air Transport Wing. As a pilot, he has met all the formal requirements to assume the task of the Commander and he knows the unit very well, so I am sure that this position is taken over by the right person.