Polish Army, I MEF celebrates Polish Armed Forces Day

16 Aug 2003 | Sgt. Colin Wyers

It's a familiar chant, one that's often heard at the end of international sporting events: "USA! USA! USA!"

The people chanting it, however, were the Polish side of an intramural soccer match held Aug 16 at Camp Babylon, outside the imposing walls of a palace once belonging to Nebuchadnezzar II. The soccer game was one of a series of events during which the Polish celebrated their Armed Forces Day.

The Polish soldiers had good reason to be sporting to the soldiers and Marines on the American team. While the heat of August was oppressive, the match was not a dead heat, with the Polish besting the Americans 7-1.

Despite their loss, the American team could look upon the match as "mission accomplished." However, there was plenty to celebrate as part of the event hosted by the Poles.

The Polish Army is contributing ground forces and a command element to the Multinational Division Central South, which will take over responsibility for five provinces in southern Iraq from the First Marine Expeditionary Force.  The Polish command element, which will be responsible for a division of nearly 20 countries, is located alongside the Marines at their headquarters in Babylon.

Armed Forces Day celebrates the anniversary "Miracle on the Vistula," where Polish forces defeated a larger Soviet opponent on the outskirts of Warsaw in 1920, preserving Polish independence at the end of World War I.

At the ceremony, distinguished guests spoke about Poland's heritage, and how it would help them to succeed in their mission in Iraq.

"The history of American-Polish cooperation in conflict is distinguished," said Maj. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, First Marine Expeditionary Force deputy commanding general.  "Two Polish generals fought in the Revolutionary War, helping to secure American freedom.  In 1980, Solidarity (a Polish labor union) helped bring Poland freedom, and helped to bring down the Soviet Union."

The commanding general of the Multinational Division, Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz addressed Iraqi guests, telling them that the Poles understand what it is to be freed from a totalitarian dictatorship.

"We don't want to impose a way of life," said Tyszkiewicz.  "The Polish are here to help you in your struggle."

Afterward, guests were served traditional Polish foods, including rye bread and potato soup. During the meal, Marines, sailors and soldiers from I MEF and the First Marine Division had a chance to talk with their Polish counterparts.

In the afternoon, the Poles had a chance to face off against the Americans in intramural sporting events.

"I think it's an excellent opportunity we wouldn't have gotten anywhere but in the military," said Army 1st Lt. Brandon Candee, from Irmo, S.C, who was a member of the American soccer team.  "I enjoy the international camaraderie."

Despite the lopsided score, the soccer match gave the Poles a way to celebrate their Armed Forces Day.

"They played very well, but they were not as prepared as us," said Polish Army Warrant Officer Rafat Kyszka.  "We prepared the last three days for this match.  It was really nice to watch."

As the two teams lined up to shake hands, they made arrangements to meet the next day for another round of soccer, but not a rematch. Participants wished to have Americans and Poles on the same team.

And, as part of the coalition, they already are.