DRAWSKO POMORSKIE TRAINING AREA, Poland — For many individuals, joining a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces can have its challenges. However, working through the process can lead to exponential personal growth and unique opportunities.
For U.S. Army Sgt. Monika Cywinska, an AH-64 helicopter repairer with 1st Attack Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, one of those unique opportunities presented itself.
Cywinska, who was born and spent part of her childhood in Bydgoszcz, Poland, recently returned to Poland on a rotation with the 1CAB.
When she was 4 years old, her family moved to Illinois where she spent most of her life before moving to Deer Park, Texas. At 18, she decided to join the U.S. Army.
“What led me into joining the Army and enlisting was I always wanted to move out and become financially independent,” Cywinska said. “I always wanted to go to college without a lot of student loans. So at 18 that was my biggest motivation to enlist. I just wanted to do something good with myself.”
Cywinska went on to deploy to Afghanistan with the 1CAB. After returning from the deployment, the next trip in store for the 1CAB was a rotation to Europe in support of Atlantic Resolve, which provides ready and postured, combat-credible air, land and sea forces. Cywinska’s time in Europe has involved working with other units and nations in multinational training exercises.
Cywinska began her rotation in Germany and later shifted to Poland. Prior to this, she said she hadn’t considered the possibility of returning to Poland as part of her military career.
“I guess I was kind of upset when I first heard about it because I've never been on a rotation, but it's been a good experience,” Cywinska said. “Coming to Poland was kind of a surprise. So that made me happy that I get to visit my family now because it's pretty close to Powidz.”
Being in Poland has given Cywinska the opportunity to visit family she hadn’t seen in a long time. She hadn’t seen her grandma since she enlisted. Some of her family, including her mother and brother, returned to Poland, making it difficult to visit them before her current rotation.
“My mom ended up moving back to Poland while I was deployed in Afghanistan,” Cywinska said. “I got to visit her on leave when she was still in Texas, but now I really won't be able to because tickets are expensive, and I'm just not planning to come here every leave. But it was nice to actually be given the opportunity to come and visit them more often than I would with two weeks of leave.”
Her husband, Sgt. Brandon Avila, an AH-64 armament/electrical/avionic systems repairer, also with 1CAB, deployed with her to Afghanistan and is now with her in Europe. Being in Poland was the first opportunity he had to meet his wife’s family.
“Going to her childhood home, she showed me paintings of chalk that are still there to this day that she and her friends did,” Avila said. “So there's still paintings of her childhood on the wall of where she lives. That was a pretty teardrop [moment], you know, pretty amazing, but it hits home.”
Cywinska recounted one weekend when she took Avila and her brother to Gdańsk.
“It was really fun,” Cywinska said. “We got an apartment hotel, and then the next day we went out to the city. I got to take my brother and my husband on a pirate ship. Then we went to the main city. We went out to eat. I took my brother and my husband on the Ferris wheel, and I took my brother on the carousel ride.”
Overall, visiting family has become a regular activity on the weekends.
“Usually, me and my husband will get a two-day pass,” Cywinska said. “So we'll drive up there. We'll usually stay at a hotel, but we see each other all day. Either we'll go out to dinner, or my grandma will cook dinner. We just find different things to do every weekend.”
Avila said he simply enjoys the opportunity to experience Poland with Cywinska.
“So having my wife here deployed with me, being born in Poland, it's been a very pleasant experience,” Avila said. “Since she speaks fluent Polish, it’s been way easier to just travel. It kind of feels more like home, you know, especially for her. It’s bringing me more into the diversity out here. It's welcoming, and I can pretty much make conversation through my wife speaking to the Polish people.”
He also spoke on how being in Poland has benefited Cywinska.
“So for her, she seems relaxed, that she could take advantage of the time that we get on the weekends and whatnot to go visit her family,” Avila said. “Yes, we're here on a rotation, and we come from an Afghanistan deployment background, which was really rough. So it's kind of like a big vacation, even though we work on a daily basis to maintain our aircraft and keep our battalion standards up.”
Cywinska enlisted in the Army to better herself, become independent and go to college without incurring student loan debt. She said that she has done some college now and feels like she’s matured a lot since she was 18.
“I think the U.S. Army helped me be better,” Cywinska said. “It helped me work as a team with other people, which I always struggled with before. Getting a big test done with a lot of people is something that I got to learn, which I'm really proud of. I got to learn how to manage my money and make it work in my favor and have that stability to get everything I need for myself. It basically matured me a lot. So I feel like I'm a completely different person than I was, say, four and a half years ago.”
Cywinska joined the Army with certain goals in mind. While she has accomplished and made strides with some of those goals, she has found more personal benefits and areas of growth than she may have originally anticipated, including the unique opportunity of being able to visit family that would have been very difficult to spend time with otherwise.
Learn more about Operation Atlantic Resolve: https://www.europeafrica.army.mil/AtlanticResolve/