INOWROCLAW, Poland — In a modern and vast aircraft hanger near Inowroclaw last Wednesday afternoon, nearly 100 Polish military members and their Mi-24, Mi-2 and W-3 Sokol helicopters awaited the arrival of President Andrzej Duda.
While half the uniformed Polish military assembled near the entrance were aviation specialties based at 56 Baza Lotnicza, some 50 standing across the bay in a formation with the W-3 Sokol between were basic trainees of the country’s growing armed forces. Nearly two dozen media members and microphones faced them, also waiting.
Behind them all and cloistered beyond an AH-64E Apache helicopter stood two dozen U.S. Army Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade and 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, currently deployed as part of a rotation of forces supporting NATO operations and training in Europe.
Primarily aircraft maintainers from the aviation unit’s 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, they were preparing to describe to Poland’s top elected official how they are familiarizing the Polish aircraft maintainers with the highly technical and modernized attack helicopter. As Poland’s military continues to modernize, they are set to purchase nearly a hundred of the Apaches and an array of supporting equipment, logistics items, and training — widening air interoperability with other NATO allies.
The assembled U.S. Soldiers said the Polish aviation specialists will still require much formal training on the advanced airframes soon, but that familiarization efforts would give them a “leg up” and has helped create productive relationships between the two teams. Key to the U.S. military’s mission in Poland is building interoperability and readiness with NATO allies through multinational training for contingency response and to deter aggression in Europe.
“It’s easy to say you support somebody; there’s nothing compared to actually physically being there,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Gorgeny, maintenance test pilot and production control officer. “This level of interaction, it’s the individual level, and that’s where I think we make the most amount of progress and make those better connections for the future.”
With conclusion of his remarks to the media, the president moved to greet the 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers. First meeting with Col. Jennifer McDonough, commander of the 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, he expressed his admiration for the AH-64E Apache airframe, then individually greeted and thanked each of Dogface Soldiers in formation.
Gorgeny briefed the enhanced capabilities achieved by the modernized generation of U.S. attack helicopter, citing its increased efficiency, speed and travel distance, as well as its upgraded avionics, communications, navigation and armament systems. With these technological advancements, the AH-64E can fly completely on instrument flight, engage from ranges outside of enemy air defense systems, and work in tandem with unmanned aerial systems.
Gorgeny offered the president a seat in the helicopter as he described the general operating differences with other NATO airframes and the work his team has done to introduce the airframe to Polish aviation specialists. As the discussion closed, Gorgeny offered the president his own unit flight patch and received the president’s own flag patch in return. Cameras clicked furiously as the longstanding military tradition of a patch exchange unfolded.
As Duda departed, he gifted both McDonough and Gorgeny his challenge coin, embossed with the Polish president’s symbol — the white eagle coat of arms. The visit ended with the Polish nation’s top official taking a group photo with the assembled Polish soldiers, and then another with the addition of the U.S. personnel, with the Polish W-3 Sokol as the backdrop.
“A very unique experience for me as some kid who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio,” said Gorgeny about the patch exchange and conversation with an allied nation’s president. “We do maintenance, and we work on aircraft. To be out here, meeting a president … That’s strange and you know that only in the U.S. Army are places that things like this can happen.”
McDonough was grateful for the recognition given to the Dogface Soldiers building relationships with their Polish counterparts and supporting allies with modernization efforts and other shared defense priorities.
“The permanent presence of our Soldiers in Poland demonstrates our commitment as allies to deterring and defending against potential adversaries on NATO’s eastern flank,” she said. “We have thousands of rotating NATO and American forces in Poland today, and each one is working individually as well as collectively to make our bilateral relationship stronger today than it has ever been, strengthening our military alliance.”