HOHENFELS, Germany (May 2, 2018) -- As the Polish National Anthem played, the white and red colors of the Polish flag waved in the early-morning breeze signifying the official start to the day here, and the beginning of National Flag Day of the Republic of Poland.

Polish Army soldiers assigned to the 12th Mechanized Division gathered in celebration of Polish Flag Day in the Hohenfels Training Area here today.

The holiday, which was established Feb. 12, 2004, is an opportunity for Poles around the world to reflect on the heritage and history of Poland, which was first established as a state in 966 C.E. The heraldry of the Polish colors is a combination of the colors found on the Kingdom of Poland coat of arms -- a white eagle on a red shield. As time passed, these two colors gained meaning, with the white symbolizing purity and the red symbolizing bravery.

Polish Army Maj. Michael Smolen, non-lethal section senior officer, 12th Mech. Div., said when he sees the flag rising and hears the national anthem of Poland, he always feels a sense of importance. For him, today was a time to remember the rich and long history Poland has endured, but to also show patriotism for his native land.

"For me, the flag is like the symbol of the cross for Catholics," Smolen said. "It gives me the picture that a lot of people had to die to bring independence in my country. I have to remember the history of Poland and know how much we had to fight for our independence, and be ready to do the same things they did in the past if necessary."

Although it is not considered a national holiday in Poland, Flag Day is celebrated between International Workers' Day (May 1) and Polish Constitution Day (May 3), which celebrates the declaration of the Polish Constitution in 1791, and is known by some as the second oldest constitution in the world.

Polish Army Capt. Michael Nowak, 12th Mech. Div. plans officer, said he was grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Polish Flag Day with multinational forces so he could share his nation's history with people from different parts of the world.

"We are very proud of our national heritage and it is very important to remember our past," said Nowak. "The flag is part of our proud history. It is important for us to celebrate it abroad because we have the chance to remember and talk about it and speak to other nations so they can know something about our history."

May 2nd also marks a celebration for the Day of Polish Diaspora, which recognizes the achievements and contributions of the approximate 20 million Poles, or people of Polish descent, living abroad.

U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Gerhauser, Group Support Training Company, 19th Special Forces Group, was in attendance at the ceremony. He said he wanted to participate in the event out of respect for the multinational forces with which he is working.

"It is good for any country to demonstrate nationalism and solidarity for their country," Gerhauser said. "This is what Special Forces is all about -- building relationships and winning the hearts and minds of our partners and allies and the locals in any area where we train or fight."

Polish Army 1st Lt. Marcin Ostaficzuk, 12th Mech. Div. legal adviser, said he has studied the history of Poland extensively. When in Poland, he said he would usually celebrate the holiday by planting a Polish flag in his yard, gather with family and reflect on the history and achievements of the Polish people.

"This day is to remind us to take care of the country, of the national symbols, and to remind us we are Poles," Ostaficzuk said. "We have to be proud of our history and remember we are responsible for how our country will look in the future. Now, we are making the history for our children to talk about."

The Polish Army 12th Mech. Div. is here in support of Combined Resolve X, which is a U.S. Army Europe-directed multinational exercise designed to give the Army's regionally allocated combat brigades to Europe a combat training center rotation with a joint, multinational environment.