POZNAN, POLAND – Fleur-de-lis, Humvees and more than 6,000 beads brought Mardi Gras to Poland this Carnival season.
The 773rd Military Police Battalion from the Louisiana National Guard turned the main road at U.S. Army Garrison Poland’s Camp Kosciuszko into “Rue de Poznan,” Feb. 9
Dozens of Polish students lined the road as a procession of Humvees decked out in Mardi Gras regalia became makeshift floats, and the Polish Air Force band brought the jazz-drenched sounds of Bourbon Street. A “Taste of Louisiana" experience with gumbo, jambalaya and King Cake brought the final conversion of the Army’s home on the Eastern Flank into an enclave of the American South.
Leading the parade and dressed in the traditional colors of purple, green and gold was Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Verdis Walker, the battalion's senior enlisted advisor and native of Haughton, Louisiana – a town just outside of Shreveport.
The parade was his last hurrah. After a 34 year career, first as an Army band member and then as a military policeman, Walker was hanging up his Army greens.
“I joined on accident,” said Walker who was one minute pledging a fraternity at his college and the next finding himself in the recruiting office. “The day I was supposed to meet my sponsor, he said he was going to drill, so I tagged along and while I was there I auditioned for the Louisiana Guard band.”
He got the gig.
Thirteen years later he was given the opportunity to become an MP, and stand up a new company – the 39th MP Company. “Now I’m the battalion sergeant major and the 39th is one of my companies” he laughed.
Walker said the Bulldogs, which the 773rd MP Bn. is affectionately nicknamed, have spent the past year providing law enforcement support to the U.S. military stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But a special opportunity arose when the battalion began partnering with a local school.
So he sent some of his troops, hard chargers like Sgt. Eryka Bell, to Poznan's Da Vinci Primary School. There she spearheaded the Bulldog’s relationship with the kids.
“Mardi Gras means family to me,” said Bell. "And these kids became an extension of that family."
Valida Yusifzada, a Da Vinci Primary teacher agreed. She said the students built real bonds over the year, and that Mardi Gras celebration was a marvel to the senses and an exclamation point to months of partnership.
"The kids were so happy, so excited," she said. Yusifzada added the food spread the Bulldogs put on was impressive. Particularly the King Cake, a cinnamon, danish-like pastry that traditionally hides a baby figurine. The finder of which is destined for a year of good luck.
Yusifzada didn't find the figurine in her cake, but this new friendship didn't need luck to succeed.
“Even though we’re different countries, we’re not that different,” said at Walker. "At the end of the day they’re not just seeing American Soldiers, they’re seeing people who enjoy celebration, food and living life -- people just like them."