Poland's president visits his NATO troops in Norfolk
NORFOLK, Va. — Get the red carpet; grab the vacuum. He’s coming early.
Where’s the band? He’s coming early!
The flags are flapping – 28 countries, to be exact.
It’s a perfect day for such wind-blown flags, just the right billow of clouds on a blue sky. The backdrop is set for a head of state.
It’s neither too hot nor too cold for the women and children dressed in their Sunday best to stand outside – coatless and comfortable – to welcome their president.
If you move close enough, you will hear them speaking Polish. Today, Poland’s white and red banner takes center stage beside Old Glory.
The podiums are set. The band is in place.
NATO’s transformation headquarters in Norfolk is ready for this auspicious visit.
The officers line up, international uniforms side by side.
“For the Polish military community serving here … it’s a true recognition of our effort, of our hard work and of everything we’ve done for the sake of the alliance and for all our nations here,” Lt. Col. Dariusz Niedzeilski informs a bystander. “I can only stress how important it is also for fostering the relationship between the military community and the civilian community of the Hampton Roads areas.”
The president has come from the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Polish Col. Romanowski Ryszard says. His first stop Thursday was Norfolk Naval Station to tour the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.
No one can remember another foreign president visiting Norfolk in recent history.
Ladies and gentleman, he’s here.
“I was in Norfolk back in 1991 as a junior deputy minister of defense,” President Bronislaw Komorowski tells those in attendance. “It was a time when I could only dream about permanent membership in NATO.”
Today, Poland claims status as the largest member to join since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
“The membership in the alliance has become a crown of Polish reclaimed freedom,” he says. “We know the price of freedom. We know how painful it was when the situation was different.”
Members of the U.S. Navy Band play a Polish marching song.
Even the Polish reporters can’t recall its name.
The families brim with pride.
“This is not normally a place where a head of state would come,” says Polish-born Monika Pendleton, whose husband works for the British section of the alliance.
“The Polish community in Norfolk is not very big. It’s important to see the support and recognition of the hard work of the military.”
Komorowski and the top NATO commander go inside the headquarters at the Naval Support Activity base.
The women pose for pictures with one of Poland’s top TV news reporters. Excited, they wait for a turn to meet their president.