US brigade in Poland 'ready to fight' but comes to 'deter'
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 12, 2017
ZAGAN, Poland — Soon after U.S. Army Col. Christopher Norrie crossed the border into Poland on Thursday with a long convoy of infantrymen, he was swarmed.
Dozens of local reporters, who gathered in wait at a Polish base in Zagan, fired off the questions. Could Norrie’s forces deter Russia? Were there enough soldiers? Are tensions with Russia getting worse?
Norrie, who commands the 3rd Brigade Armored Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said his unit, renowned for its “lethality,” had come to defend. “I have no doubt we will credibly deter any threat in the area,” he said, not mentioning Russia by name. “It doesn’t take long to put it (my unit) together and get ready to fight.”
The 3rd Brigade has nearly finished its move into Poland, where about 3,500 troops will assemble before fanning out in the weeks ahead for missions across NATO’s eastern flank. Their arrival comes at a time of anxiety in Poland and the Baltics about Europe’s security, as tensions between the West and Russia reach a post-Cold War low.
The unit was accompanied by a full set of tanks and artillery — more than 2,500 military vehicles will be operating up and down eastern Europe.
Some of the troops arrived in Poland by air, while others came by road, convoying gear from the German port in Bremerhaven. On Thursday, troops with the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, finished their four-day haul across Germany and into Poland, where they will stay before heading for Romania.
The nine-month deployment is the latest effort in the ongoing Operation Atlantic Resolve mission, which seeks to reassure anxious allies and send a signal of deterrence to what U.S. officials call a more assertive and unpredictable Russia.
In April, the U.S. will also send a squadron of troops from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment to northeastern Poland in a NATO effort to reinforce defenses there and the Baltics.
The campaign, launched in the wake of Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine, has infuriated Russia. Moscow says it poses no threat to NATO territory and calls the U.S. buildup along its periphery a provocation.
“These actions threaten our interests, our security, especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.
President-elect Donald Trump has emphasized he seeks closer ties with Moscow but has yet to explain how the Pentagon’s 2 1/2-year military expansion in Europe fits into his plans.
With the Army committed to back-to-back deployments of a heavy brigade in Europe, the Pentagon intends to keep a year-round presence of a third Army brigade. Years of cutbacks have left the service with only two forward-stationed brigades on the Continent.
“Today, marks a significant moment in European deterrence and defense as our rotational Armored Brigade Combat Team crossed from German to Polish soil,” said U.S. European Command’s Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti in a statement. “The European infrastructure and integrated support has enabled our force to rapidly be ready and postured should they need to deter Russian aggression.”
In Zagan, U.S. soldiers were the center of attention Thursday at a welcoming ceremony at a Polish army base, which will function as a headquarters for the Fort Carson-based, Colo., brigade.
During the ceremony a Polish military band played the U.S. anthem, Polish troops marched across a small parade ground and Polish Maj. Gen. Jaroslaw Mika sang the praises of the U.S. partnership.
Locals, some carrying small American flags, watched in curiosity while the town’s mayor offered a formal welcome.
“Thank you for your commitment to peace and defense. I hope it feels like home,” Mayor Daniel Marchiewka said.
Polish 1st Lt. Krzysztof Golnera, who is assigned to the base in Zagan, said working with the Americans ensures the two armies can fight together.
“It is a crucial event for us,” Golnera said. “We have been working with the Americans for a long time. The (full-time) presence allows us to have even better coordination.”
U.S. Staff Sgt. Tomasz Sobota, who grew up in Poland before immigrating to the United States, said deploying to his home country as a member of the 3rd Brigade carries special meaning.
“It feels good to come back, and I know it means a lot to the people here in Poland, for their sense of security, to have us here,” said Sobota, who mingled with Poles in the crowd.