This past year, many soldiers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade spent much of their time hiking around a hostile environment in Afghanistan.

Later this week, several dozen members of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), most of them “Sky Soldiers” from the 173rd, will do some walking in a more hospitable place: Poland.

Maj. Erik Berdy, the brigade’s deputy operations officer, said the soldiers will participate in an annual pilgrimage that attracts thousands of Polish troops and even more ordinary citizens.

“It’s about a nine-day event,” he said. “About 300 kilometers of walking. I’ve heard it’s kind of a Volksmarch-like atmosphere.”

Berdy said their Polish hosts, including the 9th Combat Regiment from Warsaw and the 8th Armor Brigade from Czestochowa, are supposed to provide food and lodging, so the trip won’t cost the Army or Vicenza-based soldiers much.

Unless you count the walking part.

Scouting platoons are providing soldiers for the pilgrimage, which celebrates a Polish victory over Sweden in the 17th century. According to local belief, the mosaic of the Black Madonna, in Czestochowa near the border with the Czech Republic, is credited with turning back the Swedes.

Berdy said the soldiers have been training for the series of marches for several weeks. Unlike the walking, participating in the daily religious observances will be voluntary, he said.

About 60 soldiers from SETAF — all but a handful from the 173rd — will take part in the event, along with 10 soldiers from the Illinois National Guard. About 4,000 members of the Polish military are expected to participate. Poland authorities asked for participation from the U.S. European Command and U.S. Army Europe, then asked for a contingent from Vicenza.

The pilgrimage starts later this week in Warsaw and continues through a series of towns until participants reach Czestochowa.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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