BEMOWO PISKIE TRAINING AREA, Poland -- Lots of loud bangs and smoke are a normal occurrence for soldiers during training exercises.
So when troops from Battle Group Poland heard an explosion and saw heavy smoke billowing near their location on May 24, their first thought was that it was part of their training exercise. The British Light Dragoons, along with U.S. and Romanian soldiers, comprised the battle group that was participating in the Polish 15th Mechanized Brigade's joint training exercise that week.
"We had been in the area doing reconnaissance missions as part of the exercise," explained Maj. Noel Claydon-Swales, the Light Dragoons commander. "We checked on our map and determined the explosion happened in the town of Ruda which was just about a kilometer away, so we decided to check it out to be sure everything was okay."
Soldiers from the 2nd Mechanized Battalion loaded up in their vehicles and raced to the scene. But when they got there, they discovered all was not okay.
When they pulled up, Claydon-Swales said they saw flames shooting out of a house and residents in a panic, trying to put out the fire. Light Dragoon Cpl. Scott Mallen grabbed a hose and began to douse the flames on the rooftop of the house.
"Without even thinking for a minute, we all jumped in and began to act to put the fire out," he said. "We continued to help, assisting the fire fighters when they arrived."
The fire raged through the night, leaving three families homeless, but with no casualties. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
The soldiers' quick action helped save lives and prevented the fire from spreading to more homes, said Capt. Józef Baranowski, a spokesman for the Headquarters of the State Fire Service in Pisz.
"If not for their quick intervention, it is not known whether the building could be saved," Baranowski said. "The attitude of soldiers deserves praise. I wish that everyone reacted so when they see a dangerous event."
Claydon-Swales said his troops -- along with their U.S. and Romanian counterparts -- are heroes by nature.
"These actions are typical of every Light Dragoon and British soldier -- be it helping to fight a fire while on operations in Poland or assisting with flood relief back home in the U.K.," he said. "Our soldiers are very proud to serve here in Poland alongside our allies, and to directly help the local community in such a small way has been very rewarding for our men and women."
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steven Gventer, the battle group commander, was present at a special ceremony where the Polish 15th Mechanized Brigade recognized the troops' heroic actions. In presenting the awards, Polish Gen. Jaroslaw Gromadzinski stated how proud he was to be working with such "brave and professional soldiers in the battle group."