Lessons of the past lead to stable future

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
  • 501st Combat Support Wing
The car bumped and bounced along the road peppered with loose rocks and potholes. Buildings flew by, both new and old, that symbolized national struggle and a commitment to rebuild.
It was hard to believe that nearly 75 years ago, the road leading to and from Gniezno, the former capital of modern day Poland, was lined with troops from the Third Reich. While the picturesque scene of sprawling farmland and residential homes painted an almost Rockwellian image, a closer look revealed something quite different.
"Poland of course was the key country," W. Averell Harriman, former special envoy to Europe under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, once said. "I remember Stalin telling me that the plains of Poland were the invasion route of Europe to Russia and always had been, and therefore he had to control Poland."

Despite the serene beauty that highlighted the drive, many buildings were still riddled with bullet holes and the last remnants of rubble lined the streets. It was a deep reminder just how fractured the Nazis and Soviet Union had left the landscape after their occupation.

It was also a message from the nation to the rest of the world that Poland's journey was far from over.
President George H.W. Bush said, "Poland should be strong and prosperous and independent and play its proper role as a great nation in the heart of Europe."

Spend any time interacting with the people of Poland and one quickly realizes a single, reoccurring fact - they are all heart. The level of generosity, kindness and hospitality shown to strangers in what feels like a strange land has been overwhelming. Despite cultural and language barriers, the "people of the field" have welcomed deployed American forces with open arms.

From the C-130J Super Hercules taking off and landing at Powidz Air Base to the multi-national paratroopers descending from the sky during one of many training operations, it is abundantly clear that America's forward presence in Europe has been well-received by our Polish partners. The mission here goes beyond airlift operations and flying deployments. This is about our future, and the goal to create a peaceful, stable and secure Europe.
Hard lessons learned by the United States and Poland during World War II left both countries with the understanding that world issues could be better solved jointly.
"The war changed everybody's attitude," said Harriman. "We became international almost overnight."
It was that blooming spirit of international cooperation that allowed U.S. Service members to enjoy Polish hospitality. The scenery, food and friends have made the time pass much too quickly.

Deeper partnerships have been forged not only in Poland, but across the continent.

However, no matter how hospitable or embracing this country may be, there is an ever-present air of concern that history may, one day repeat itself. Russia's breach of international commitments has created a culture of concern within the borders of Poland.

"Roosevelt was determined to stop Stalin from taking over Eastern Europe," Harriman said. "He thought they finally had an agreement on Poland. Before Roosevelt died, he realized that Stalin had broken his agreement."

Broken agreements and past actions aside, it is no secret that allies in Eastern Europe are calling for a larger NATO presence. While the United States is not currently entertaining any plans to permanently base air assets in this region, personnel and aircraft will continue to rotate into Poland and the Baltic States to enhance the already impressive repository of skills possessed by all parties.

Regardless of whatever bumps along the road the United States and Poland may experience, the lessons of the past are ever-present in the decisions leading the region to a peaceful, stable and permanent future.