By Stephen Satkowski, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Public AffairsMay 31, 2013
Friendship can be defined as mutual concern, trust and shared values. That description fits the partnership between the American and Polish armed forces. The two countries have fought side by side since 2002 and sustained their friendship through blood, sweat and tears.
The term also describes the relationship between Capt. Barbara Bujak, the Physical Therapy chief and Detachment commander at Andrew Rader U.S. Army Health Clinic on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and the Polish servicemembers she volunteered to help while stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany from 2007 to 2011.
"I stumbled upon a Polish liaison at the hospital when I was seeing patients on the wards and started talking to him. We exchanged information and then they started to contact me every time a Polish soldier was coming to LRMC from downrange."
Having been born and spending her formative years in Poland, Bujak's familiarity with the language and customs of her native land enabled her to provide critical communication skills and a much needed sense of home to the more than 50 wounded Poles she volunteered to help. It was because of this effort she was formally invited by the Polish Wounded Warrior Association to attend Poland's Veterans Day ceremony known as Dzieñ Weterana on May 29 in Wroclaw, Poland.
Polish Cpl. Lukasz Cislo, a former reservist and first responder in the Polish armed forces, met Bujak in the halls of LRMC while being pushed around the hospital in a wheelchair after an injury he sustained downrange.
Cislo said, "Captain Bujak visited me [and other wounded Poles] during her free time. We talked, she took us shopping and on little trips outside the hospital. She arranged my physical therapy sessions, and when my wife came to visit, she even extended her home to [my wife]."
Retired Polish Maj. Artur Rakowski's vehicle was blown up by an improvised explosive device. While at Landstuhl recovering from grievous wounds to his feet, Bujak's critical translation of complicated medical terminology provided easier and more informed contact with medical personnel and uplifted his spirits.
"She talked to me and helped me feel better during this difficult time when I was told I might lose both my feet. She was giving me hope," he said.
"If she wasn't there, it would be very difficult or impossible to communicate with the medical staff," Rakowski explained.
Poland has been one of the United States most steadfast allies in the fight against terrorism with 62 members of their military making the ultimate sacrifice. U.S. Ambassador to Poland Stephen D. Mull recognizes the significance of this partnership.
"The sacrifices and wounds of Polish soldiers testify to the extraordinary partnership that has been forged on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Capt. Bujak, who was born in Poland and came to the United States when she was 11 years old herself, symbolizes the close relationship between our two countries as NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] allies and partners fighting against terrorism."
Caring for wounded coalition forces is a collaborative effort. Along with Bujak, The Fisher House Foundation also played an active role providing five-star living arrangements for family members of the wounded Polish troops. Vivian Wilson, Landstuhl Fisher House manager, was also invited to the ceremony recognizing the Fisher House's continued contributions.
"We are so touched that they would think so highly of us because we think so highly of [the Polish people]. I would never have imagined they would ask us to attend such a distinguished and historical ceremony."
Days before boarding the plane to Poland, Bujak was anticipating the event.
"I am very honored to be invited to the ceremony. The Polish Wounded Warrior Association asked its members who they would like to invite, so I am very grateful and excited to be invited. I have made lifelong friends with some of these soldiers and it will be amazing to see them again. I have seen some of them when I visited Poland, but it is always wonderful to have a reunion again. I love hearing about the recovery, but also their lives. They send me pictures from their weddings and when their families expand. I cannot wait to catch up with them in person and see how they are doing now. There isn't a time when I go to Poland, when I don't think of them, and depending where I go, I will call or email them to see if they can meet up."
Cislo is now medically retired from the Polish armed forces and plans to go back to school and start a family.
Rakowski also is medically retired, but will always be thankful for Bujak's help.
"I think we understand each other very well and we will stay friends forever," he said.
(Editor's note: Special thanks to the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland for contributing to this story.)