CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Illinois National Guard Soldiers with the 108th Sustainment Brigade and officials with the embassy of the Republic of Poland in Kuwait came together to honor the 21-year anniversary of their state partnership July 14 at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and the embassy of the Republic of Poland in Kuwait, July 15.
The ambassador and his staff learned more about the success in the State Partnership Program (SPP) over the last 21 years. They also received a brief and tour of the brigade's facilitates to highlight 108th Sustainment Brigade's capabilities, mission and achievements during its deployment to Kuwait.
Following the tour there was a luncheon featuring American-style barbecue bringing leadership and Illinois National Guard Soldiers together who have co-deployed with Polish Land Forces. The Polish ambassador reciprocated by inviting Soldiers of the 108th to a dinner to honor Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers and the relationship between the U.S. and Poland.
In 1993 the Illinois National Guard and Poland were paired in the Department of Defense State Partnership Program due in part to Illinois' long history of Polish heritage. Chicago has the second highest Polish population following Warsaw, Poland.
"Today is an important day for the Illinois National Guard and Poland," said Col. Drew Dukett of Roodhouse, Illinois, the commander of the 108th Sustainment Brigade. "It marks another year in a long friendship transcending borders and bringing two countries together."
Dukett said the program partnered the Illinois National Guard and Poland as one of the first three SPP relationships initiated and has matured from military-to-military exchanges to broad-based civil service, cultural and civilian events.
Following the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the National Guard Bureau decided to partner National Guard commands across the nation with countries who were formerly under the USSR. Since then the program has spread across the globe, partnering National Guard commands through the nation with 65 different countries.
"I've known Soldiers who have worked many times with Polish service members throughout their careers," said Dukett. "They speak highly about the friendships they had developed and working with Polish Soldiers they've known for years."
The Polish ambassador along with his staff was very grateful for the chance to spend time with American Soldiers.
"Thank you very much arranging this visit, it wasn't just interesting, it was fascinating," said Grzegorz Olszak, Polish ambassador to the State of Kuwait and Kingdom of Bahrain.
Olszak said the brotherhood in arms is just one element of Polish and American military cooperation. He said he looks forward to the future of the long standing relationship between the two military forces.
"I remember 20 years ago when I was completing my military service. I feel that all the Soldiers share the same feelings of longing for home, longing for your family and longing for your friends," said Olszak.
During its 21-year partnership the Illinois National Guard and the Republic of Poland have conducted more than 320 bilateral events, focused on interagency cooperation and interoperability. This partnership has enabled the exchange of ideas and training helping better both forces over the course of decades.
These exchanges include Soldier skills, leadership development for commissioned and noncommissioned officers, veteran benefits, recruiting and retention, homeland security, chemical response and aircraft operations.
Since 2003 the Illinois National Guard and Polish Land Forces Soldiers have co-deployed together to the Middle East multiple times.
In 2007 the Illinois National Guard began the Bilateral Embedded Staff Teams (BEST). BEST teams made up of Illinois Soldiers began deploying in support of Polish Contingency Operations in command of Task Force White Eagle in Ghazni, Afghanistan. Polish Land Forces' and Task Force White Eagle contributed to overall achievements of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission.
There have been three co-deployments to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi freedom and 13 to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Polish contingency operations. Approximately 400 Soldiers and 37,000 Polish Soldiers have supported these operations.
In addition to the exchange of information and training between the two forces, an exchange of culture has also taken place. Guard members from Illinois have annually walked with troops from Poland, Germany, Slovakia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia on the approximate 200-mile Czestochowa pilgrimage. The Illinois National Guard is among the very few non-European participants in the march and brings solidarity to the people of Illinois and Poland.
Units throughout the Illinois National Guard train regularly with Polish service members keeping up with the newest tactics, techniques and technology for the battlefield or homeland security. In addition to military units, there have been exchanges in the civil service sector for law enforcement, homeland security and biological defense.
"The Illinois National Guard and Poland partnership is one of the most highly acclaimed partnerships in the SPP," said Dukett. "This is not due solely to one person or one nation, this is due to the professionalism, dedication and friendship of two nations."