With the soldiers of the Polish Military Contingent in Latvia on the day-to-day cooperation with fellow troops of different nationalities talks Magdalena Miernicka.
Is your mission in the Republic of Latvia more of a duty or a challenge to you?
Radosław Bartuś: On the one hand, we are here out of duty – we can’t let the scenario from Ukraine repeat itself. On the other hand, it is also a challenge. Everyone here has an opportunity to verify their abilities or to improve them.
Łukasz Karczewski: We each made our own decision to come here. No one forced us to go on the mission. It’s a chance to gain new experiences. We spend a lot of time together, which also helps to develop closer ties among the crew members. For me, serving here has a lot of advantages, although I must admit that my wife was not very happy that I would be gone for so long.
Do you remember the beginning of the mission? Did anything surprise you when you got here?
Radosław Bartuś: We knew what we came here for. The surprising thing was, maybe, that we didn’t expect such a warm welcome. This goes both for soldiers we work with and the conditions we have here. Food, accommodation – everything is top standard.
Are the tasks you carry out on the mission similar to what you do in Poland?
Bartosz Żelazny: Generally, our duties are similar. We spend a lot of time at the training field. It’s an interesting experience for us, because we don’t know the area as well as we know our own.
Battle Group Latvia is quite big, and as many as 8 nationalities are deployed here. Is your cooperation with them successful?
Radosław Bartuś: We understand the Slovaks and the Czechs very well, we don’t even need to use English to communicate. Cooperation with the Spanish and Italians is a little bit different. I mean not only on the mental or language level, but also in the way we carry out some tasks. For example, we use the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system (a military system for calculating coordinates), whereas they base their calculations on latitude and longitude. When we are looking for one another at the training field, we have to quickly recalculate the data they give us. But it is not a big problem.
Bartosz Żelazny: Besides, we have already got to know one another pretty well. From time to time there is a competition that checks our knowledge on the Allies. We answer questions like: who is the prime minister of a given country, what currency they use or who is the most famous sportsperson in some particular discipline. If anyone makes a mistake, the whole contingent does press-ups. However, it is more about having fun and integration than tormenting the rivals.
Does it mean that in Latvia the word “problem” doesn’t exist?
Radosław Bartuś: Obviously, some problems occur, but we try to solve them instead of exaggerating them. At the beginning, for example, we had problems with communication. Each nation uses their own system, and integrating all of the systems seemed impossible, but somehow we managed to do it. We created the position of a junior operations officer, who deals with things like coordinating the information flow.
Marcin Babowicz: The training field was also difficult for us at the beginning. The topography here is a little bit different than in Poland. Everywhere you go there’s sand – you basically drive on a beach. Over time, we actually got quite good at it and now our tanks are unstoppable!
Do you have time to get to know the city, talk to Latvians?
Bartosz Żelazny: Of course. Sometimes we have a weekend off. There are also trips with a guide from time to time. We’ve been to Riga, for example. It is important to know the place where you serve. We often take part in sport events. We even have our own team of runners. We treat competing with our Allies not only as a way to work on our fitness but also to promote Poland. It is also a great occasion to integrate with our colleagues from NATO states.
Łukasz Karczewski: The Canadians also organized the so-called relax area. We have billiards, foosball, even a hockey field. However, you see most soldiers in the gym. There are also movie nights, so we are up to date with war and historic movies.
You had already been here when the whole world was watching the World Cup. Did you watch matches?
Łukasz Karczewski: Of course! We even organized a multinational fan zone!
Bartosz Żelazny: It was actually pretty exciting. When it comes to football, we are very similar to the Italians and Spaniards. They are dead serious about the subject, just as we are.
It is said that soldiers have to eat well to perform their tasks well. Do you like the food here?
Łukasz Karczewski: We have a great cafeteria. Food is mainly prepared by the Canadians, but our Polish cooks also participate in preparing meals. The food may be a bit monotonous, but it’s certainly tasty.
The core of the 3rd Rotation of the Polish Military Contingent deployed in the Republic of Latvia within NATO Battle Group are the troops of the 15th Mechanized Brigade in Giżycko. They have a company of the PT 91 Twardy tanks with them. 2nd Lt Radosław Bartuś is the commander of one of its platoons, LCpl Łukasz Karczewski is the crew commander, PVT Bartosz Żelazny is the gunner, and PFC Marcin Babowicz is the driver.
autor zdjęć: Michał Niwicz