Poland, US distribute toys for holiday season

  • Published
  • By Staff Reports
  • 52nd Operations Group
During the holiday season, there is nothing more special than reaching out to your local community and showing kindness to those in need.

The members of the Detachment 1, 52nd Operations Group, took this to heart and, in collaboration with deployed forces in Poland, organized a toy drive and church service to support more than 590 children in six distinct geographic locations throughout Poland. 

The U.S. and Poland have a rich history of goodwill toward one another dating back to the American Revolutionary War, when Polish military leader Casimir Pulaski, named the father of the American Cavalry, helped America gain its independence from Great Britain. This fraternal legacy continued into World War II, where the Polish people, under Soviet rule at the time, displayed inspiring compassion and grace by caring for two downed U.S. Airmen who ultimately lost their lives near the small town of Konstantynow, Poland.

The two Airmen were a part of a 10-man crew aboard a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber that was mistakenly shot down by Russian forces March 15, 1945. The people of Konstantynow buried the two men in the middle of their small town and adorned the grave site with flowers, handmade crosses and even marked the gravesite with their names, thereby commemorating their lives.

Following WWII, the people of Poland fell under the communist system imposed by Soviet rule. Communist rule continued until the fall of the Berlin wall in November of 1989. Poland, however, did not have entirely free Polish Parliamentary elections until October of 1991. Nonetheless, Polish-American relations blossomed over the years, culminating in the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Aviation Detachment in Poland Nov. 9, 2012. Americans and Polish now continue this heritage built over the last few centuries with strong community outreach programs and contributions to national defense.

In honor of this history, the Av-Det planned an event that could stand proudly amid the stories of Polish-American interactions. The toy drive and church service began in the town of Gniezno, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Adalbert. Built sometime in the eleventh century, this cathedral is credited with the spread of Christianity throughout much of Eastern Europe and has contributed to Polish history in innumerable ways.

On Dec. 20, 2014, it played host to yet another historic event.

This is the day that the cathedral opened its large bronze doors, which are, in and of themselves quite famous, to an American Protestant Church service, hosted by U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Sean Randall, 52nd Fighter Wing chaplain. During this service, approximately 50 Polish and 100 American Airmen, some joined by family members, shared stories of Christmas traditions and memories from their childhood.

The stories of Polish traditions and American traditions varied, even among the same nationalities, which only bared our shared value of diversity. Most importantly, however, all stories shared one common tie, the significance of family and friends during the holiday season.

Every story explained how each storyteller connects with his or her family and loved ones during the holiday season. Following Randall's sermon about the Nativity scene, the service concluded with inspiring words from Polish Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Piotr Gibasiewicz and displayed promise for future shared events.

Immediately following the service, the Av-Det and company hosted a toy drive in the Gniezno seminary, handing out more than 600 toys and 200 clothing items to some 60 children in attendance and 20 additional children unable to attend from a local orphanage. The marathon of toy giving continued over several days and allowed the Av-Det to visit four other locations in Poland, to include the Jeziorna School for disabled children, the Konstantynow Elementary School and Rabien Elementary School.

While on the charitable road trip, the Av-Det, with the help from the U.S. chaplain's office and his family, distributed more than 700 toys to nearly 300 children. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jack Harman, Av-Det commander, also presented on behalf of the 165th Airlift Wing, approximately $473 to purchase a new wheelchair for a person in need.

The Polish air force, 10th Fighter Squadron, rounded out the events for the year by helping distribute an additional 200 toys, 100 outfits and baked goods to the less fortunate families and children of Lask, Poland. 

This multinational event took months of coordination among the volunteers; consequently, the Av-Det would like to thank the men and women of the 165th AW; 123rd Airlift Wing; 52nd FW;  Randall and his family; 1st Combat Communications Squadron; the Exchange; Defense Attaché Office; U.S. Embassy in Poland; the International Church Charity; Polish air force on Lask, Air Base; Polish air force located on Powidz Air Base; and the great people of Gniezno, Konstantynow and Lask.

Razem silniejsi - stronger together!