NEWS | Dec. 12, 2011

Illinois National Guard to train with Polish army, preparing for 2012 deployment together

By Army National Guard Spc. Jeffrey Granda Illinois National Guard

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Someone headed to war surrounded by foreign troops might have reason to be a bit apprehensive, but Army National Guard Col. Michael Zerbonia is calm and confident.

Perhaps this is because the Polish brigade Zerbonia's 18-Soldier Bi-lateral Embedded Support Team 10 will co-deploy with in 2012 is hardly foreign. They happen to be longtime friends and partners with the Illinois National Guard.

This will be Zerbonia's second deployment with the Polish unit.

In addition to commanding the BEST 10 team, Zerbonia will act as the deputy brigade com-mander of the 12th Polish Mechanized Brigade, working with approximately 2,800 Polish soldiers. The 12th PMB’s mission in Afghanistan will be to maintain freedom of movement, policing the Ghanzi province and handing over the responsibilities to Afghan forces.

BEST 10 Soldiers will train at Camp Lincoln here before deploying to Poland for two months to train with Polish forces. Following that training, they will deploy with Polish soldiers to Afghanistan.

"We've compiled a good group of Soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, providing a wide range of skills sets," Zerbonia said. "I've had extensive experience working with the Polish and Russian [militaries] and I feel comfortable with the mission."

But that doesn't mean this rotation will be the same as previous rotations, Zerbonia said.

"Our mission changes as the war changes," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Sheahan, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the BEST 10 team. "We'll be focusing on the transition of handing back power to the Afghan army and police."

The BEST Soldiers perform duties such as logistics, intelligence, operations, and airspace management. All the while they work jointly with the Polish army. The team also signs contracts and works with civilian contractors, as well as training the Afghan army and police to take more of a leading role in operations.

Though the team expects challenges, they said they are looking forward to this unique experience.

"I know it will be a challenging deployment,” Sheahan said, adding that everyone involved is excited for what is ahead.

The Illinois National Guard has shared a State Partnership Program with the Polish military since 1993. The Illinois National Guard started to co-deploy with a Polish brigade first to Iraq and then Afghanistan starting in 2003.

The Illinois National Guard's SPP is among the oldest and largest of 61 total partnerships. The SPP was established to help former Eastern Bloc countries transition to democracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union by linking the National Guard forces of several states with the militaries of these countries.

The Illinois National Guard was partnered with Poland because of the many cultural and ethnic ties shared between Poland and Illinois. Poland is now among the United States’ staunchest allies in Europe.