U.S. officials praised the long-standing relationship with Poland as they celebrated the first full-time U.S. military presence in that nation.
During a ceremony at Lask Air Base, located about 100 miles southwest of Warsaw, U.S. Air Force personnel flew the American flag, marking the establishment of a small unit dedicated to supporting multi-national aviation training and exercises. The ten personnel of the detachment will be joined by up to 200 visiting airmen conducting quarterly training rotations.
U.S. Ambassador to Poland Stephen D. Mull and Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander, were joined at the ceremony by Poland’s Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak, Chief of Staff Army Gen. Mieczyslaw Cieniuch and Air Force Commander Gen. Lech Majewski.
The arrival of the 10-man team at the base represents “a new kind of U.S. ‘boots on the ground’ here in Poland,” said Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Chollet represented Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta at the ceremony.
“The alliance between the United States and Poland is rooted in shared history, shared values and deep ties among our people, cemented through NATO and the ironclad commitment to Article 5,” Chollet said. “The Polish people have been our partners for over two centuries, and since joining the NATO alliance in 1999, your troops have been shoulder-to-shoulder with ours in the Balkans, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”
The personnel in Lask will provide continuity for U.S. personnel rotating in and out of Poland, defense officials said. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon and C-130 Hercules units will form the core of the U.S. presence. The personnel at the detachment will report to the 52nd Fighter Wing, based at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
President Barack Obama and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk agreed to the U.S. presence in Lask during the president’s visit to Poland last year. The detachment will make it easier for U.S. and Polish airmen to increase their interoperability and will enhance military-to-military ties at all levels, defense officials said.
The presence will also facilitate bilateral and, officials hope, multinational joint training exercises. Poland has extensive ranges and its airspace is far more open than countries farther west. Officials also hope this will allow both militaries to deepen already strong partnerships.
“I am truly proud of the way our defense cooperation has focused on looking to the future to ensure we are prepared for the threats and challenges our countries will face,” Chollet said. “As we move together into the future, we expect more U.S. boots to follow as we establish a NATO ballistic missile interceptor site at Redzikowo in 2018.”
The U.S. aviation detachment “also sends a clear message to allies and partners that the U.S. remains committed to European defense and to the principle that we are indeed ‘stronger together,’” Chollet said.
Article by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service