Students, Airmen form strong friendships in Poland

POWIDZ AIR BASE, Poland -- The sound of school bells ringing at the Zespol Szkol Ponadgimnazjalnych W Kleczewie, a high school in Kleczewie, Poland, made Oct. 21, 2014, seem like a normal day of class for students and teachers.

That is ... until a team of U.S. Air Force Airmen entered the school.

Roughly 20 U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 182nd Airlift Wing, Illinois Air National Guard, Peoria, Illinois, and Detachment 1, 52nd Operations Group, from Lask Air Base, Poland, spent time visiting students, teachers and staff after training with the Polish air force during Aviation Detachment rotation 15-1.

"We wanted to teach the students why we are here and that we are a partner with them in NATO," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bruce Bennett, mission commander for 182nd AW in Poland from Morton, Illinois.

Students welcomed the Airmen with a small assembly complete with songs in English, with many Americans remarking on how well students performed the songs.

Airmen then split into small groups and visited classrooms throughout the school for question-and-answer sessions. The Polish students' questions ranged from life in America to what it's like to fly and be away from family as part of the military.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Samantha Lanier, a 169th Airlift Squadron flight engineer from Peoria, Illinois, said she was more than happy to answer them. 

"There were some students who wanted to use their English and ask us questions about ourselves," Lanier said. "It was really neat to see how they were interested in us, and the hospitality we received was appreciated."

The students, while initially shy, appeared more willing to approach the Airmen throughout the day and even posed for photos with their new American friends.

School officials also said they were excited for students to practice their English with the Airmen.

"I enjoyed the live contact with the American Air Force - the fact that they were spread into different classrooms so they could answer questions asked by students," said Zbigniew Luczak, an English teacher. "The hidden aim was to get motivation for students to learn more English. It's going to be useful in the future."

The uniform-clad Airmen then donned athletic clothes and prepared to face the boys' volleyball team in a friendly match. Students lined the walls as spectators, clapping and cheering for every point scored by the home and visiting teams.

The school team's hard spikes quickly routed the American team in the first game. The two teams then mixed together making for more volleyball action.

With the blended teams, each volley between the teams lasted longer and made for some close competition. 

The match ended three sets to two, with the school team ending on top. But that didn't stop the students from presenting a trophy to the Americans for their efforts on the court.

"They're very good - it's definitely a sport that they excel at," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Riggs, 169th AS C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft pilot from Pekin, Illinois. "They had several guys who are very athletic, and they beat us pretty handily. Once we mixed up teams and cooperated together, the competition was really good. We had a good time, and both teams ended up winning."

Students and Airmen then finished the day by eating lunch together. As the final bell rang, Airmen and school members expressed how the day had been enjoyable, while hoping it wouldn't be the last time this would happen.

"It was a wonderful experience," Luczak said. "It was the first time in the 65-year history of the school that we welcomed such a big group from the American Air Force. All the students and teachers enjoyed their visit."