WEDRZYN, Poland -- What do you think of when reflecting on Thanksgiving? For some it's sports, for others it's family -- or even foods such as greens, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, chicken, turkeys, rabbits, you name it.
While more than 5,000 miles from the nearest continental U.S. border, "Sky Soldiers" assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and their Polish-NATO Allies, assigned to the 6th Airborne Battalion, 16th Airborne Brigade, took a less-traditional route to celebrate the American holiday by participating in a shooting competition.
"The main purpose is to use three different weapons systems," 1st Lt. Cory Pederson, officer in charge of range operations, D Co., 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt., said, "and have an event centered around our alliance with the Polish to celebrate our Thanksgiving and partnership with them."
The competitors were judged on their ability to rapidly and accurately shoot the M4 5.56mm Carbine, M9 Semiautomatic 9mm Pistol, and Mossberg 500 shotgun, while negotiating different firing lanes.
The Paratroopers came together to celebrate each other's shared interests in the spirit of Thanksgiving.
"It's nice to have (our Allies) out here," Pederson said. "What's really cool is, while we do this, they kind of show us some of the ways their army does things and how their weapons systems work."
The feeling was echoed by a member of the Polish-Paratrooper unit.
"I think that you have different styles of shooting and we also have our style," Pvt. Robert Kaintoch, 6th Abn. Bn., 16th Abn. Bde., said. "When we train together, you can learn something different and the same is for us."
Pederson said the "fun-competitive environment" helped the NATO Allies build on previously established relationships and bonds of trust.
After a day at the weapons range, the "Sky Soldiers" and Polish paratroopers gathered at the dining facility for a Thanksgiving meal where the "Destined" Company's first sergeant reminded each Paratrooper of the underlying symbolism behind the holiday.
"Think of today as you are celebrating Thanksgiving with your family and friends," said 1st Sgt. Anthony Dimico, senior enlisted advisor, D Co., 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt., "just not back at home, but with your extended family here in Destined Company."
Dimico reminded the Allies that if they ever deployed together they would have to operate as a family because "we're going to have to rely on them just as much as they're going to rely on use to cover each other's back."
The family of Paratroopers celebrated together after being served food and drinks by Destined Company's platoon sergeants and officers.
"It's nice that American Soldiers are together with the Polish," Kaintoch said while dining with a fellow Polish paratrooper and his American counterpart.
"Everybody's coming together as one," Pvt. Kamau Rush, Paratrooper, D Co., 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. Regt., said. "We need unity; that's always going to be a good thing. That's always going to be number one in my opinion!"
Rush said having events that encourage the U.S. and Polish Paratroopers to eat together and socialize benefits them beyond the dining facility and during any potential high-risk situation because it "adds not just bonds, but friendships ... it's personal!"
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the Army Contingency
Response Force in Europe, and is capable of projecting forces to conduct a full range of military operations across the United States European, Central and Africa Command areas of responsibility within 18 hours.
U.S. Army Europe is uniquely positioned in its 51 country area of responsibility to advance American strategic interests in Europe and Eurasia. The relationships we build during more than 1,000 theater security cooperation events in more than 40 countries each year lead directly to support for multinational contingency operations around the world, strengthen regional partnerships and enhance global security.