Aviation detachment keeps US-Polish training running smoothly

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

"All the expectations you have for a normal assignment -- throw those out the window," said Maj. Micah Chollar, the director of operations for the Detachment of the 52nd Operations Group. "We have to analyze who we have, what our guys bring to the table and what we can do to overcome any challenges thrown our way."  

The aviation detachment here was activated in November 2012, and consists of a small group of Airmen marking the first enduring presence of U.S. military members on Polish soil. The detachment's presence in Poland makes it possible to host multiple allied air force elements and serve as a regional hub for air training and multinational exercises. They also facilitate and enable combined U.S. and Polish training and exercises to increase air support to NATO.

Ten Airmen are assigned and work at the detachment each serving in mission-essential career fields. The team includes a C-130 Hercules and an F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot, an aerospace ground equipment troop, a crew chief, a maintenance officer, a contracting officer, a logistics Airman, two communications Airmen and a supply Airman. 

"It's interesting because we're used to operating with people within our own career fields," Chollar said. "Now, all of us are one deep in the shop together. You learn a lot about each other's career fields, what each person brings to the fight and how to communicate more efficiently." 

With the limited on-base resources available to those assigned here, the contracting officer, whose job is to procure anything needed off the economy, takes on a large responsibility within the detachment. 

"My assumption coming here (was) that we are going to a U.S. Air Force base, but I came to quickly realize that we are a very small tenant unit inside a Polish air force base," said Tech. Sgt. Rommel Delmundo, the Det 1 contracting officer. "That changes a lot of things. We don't have a base exchange, a commissary or a gas station, so we depend and rely a lot on the economy as far as accomplishing our mission to not only maintain our unit but the rotations that come through here as well."

While working and living with only 10 Airmen on a day-to-day basis may seem like a daunting task, the Airmen stationed here for the year realize it comes down to cooperation and understanding. 

"Since there are only 10 of us, we've come to rely on each other whenever someone gets overloaded and needs help," said Tech. Sgt. Gloria Casanova, a Det 1 client systems specialist. "We have come to be very close and been able to be that helping hand for individuals in any career field."

Each fiscal year, the Av-Det hosts approximately four off-site training rotations for an average of two weeks at a time. While eight weeks out of the year may not seem that long, the preparation before a unit arrives contributes to the detachment's work load. 

"What's not commonly known is how little downtime we have here," said Maj. Matthew Spears, the Det 1 commander. "We may have months in between each rotation, but it's not well known how hard we work in those months. It's that behind-the-scenes work that makes rotations successful here. The preparation we do allows units to come in and begin operations on day one."

Delmundo explained that the extensive preparations, result in a lighter workload while rotations are present at the Av-Det. 

"There's a lot of preparation going on before a rotation arrives," he said. "There's hotel coordination, vehicle coordination, getting tents and making sure we have water. That's the majority of what we do here is preparation and when execution time comes, if everything is done right, then it's pretty much cruise control."

While preparations for several rotations of F-16 and C-130 squadrons can exhaust a lot of man-hours, Av-Det personnel understand the importance of their mission and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with a successful completion of a rotation. 

"We know that the work we accomplished was for a valid purpose and we took a little bit of coordination and administration off the plates of an operational unit with a high operations tempo to make their lives a little easier," Spears said. "The team out here works hard, whether we're preparing for a rotation or building relationships with the Polish air force," Spears said. "Either way, I couldn't be prouder of the work that they do."

To date, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and numerous other distinguished visitors have visited the Av-Det here to solidify the importance of a U.S. presence in Poland.