Speaking the language of a C-130 can overcome cultural barriers

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Shane P Hill
  • 182 Airlift Wing Public Affairs
'Dzien dobry!' While it may not be understood, it sure sounds nice when a member of the Polish Air Force says 'Good Afternoon!' to you with a smile. It is the first realization that while you may be in a place that is completely different in culture and language, it is a place where people embrace your presence.

When the members of the 182nd Airlift Wing, Peoria, IL. arrived to the 33 Air Base, Powidz, Poland, as part of the Illinois Air National Guard's role in the Illinois-Poland State Partnership Program (SPP), they continued a long friendship with the Polish military. The visit is part of a continual endeavor by National Guard Units and Eastern European Military Forces to create information exchange and familiarization with western based assets. The week long diplomatic mission renewed a partnership between the units, which began in 2008, to help the Polish Air Force's efforts to assist standing up their new C-130 mission.

"We are really glad to have you here. To have the opportunity to ask you questions," said Lt. Col. Mitzcystaw Gaudyn,14 Airlift Squadron Commander, during his initial introductions to the 169th Airlift Squadron members.

The Polish Air Force received its first C-130 E model in March 2009. They are slated to receive four additional E models by summer of 2010. To begin creating the squadron, the Polish Air Force began preparing and training personnel in 2007.

"Creation of the squadron is a process," said Gaudyn. "The first purpose is to give supplies to troops, such as in Afghanistan."

As part of the process, a 41 member team from the 182 Airlift Wing met with their Polish Air Force counterparts. The members toured facilities and exchanged information with their Polish counterparts through task demonstration, document sharing and hands on experiences.

And while language and culture created an obstacle in their exchange, it was far from a road block considering the Polish Air Force members thirst for knowledge.

"They are very well educated and know the theory of the C-130 systems. So they ask great questions," said Master Sgt. Peter Schussler, 182nd Guidance and Control Shop Chief. Many times they ask questions that I need to reference before answering. In looking up the answer they are teaching me."

Schussler's counterpart, Capt. Dawid Florczak, 13th Squadron Avionics Shop Commander, called the experience an opportunity to further his knowledge.

"It is a very good practice. We had three months of technical training, but only two weeks of on the job training at the Nashville Air National Guard. Everything for us is new. It takes time, so we need people with experience that work on C-130s more than us," said Florczak.

This type of exchange is the intended purpose of the SPP according to Chief Master Sgt. Tom Hergenrother, Command Chief of the 183rd Fighter Wing.

"Here we have a military to military program that brings experience and knowledge to the Polish Military. Peoria brings experience and the knowledge of the C-130 aircraft system that is new to the Polish Air Force who have a limited experience with the C-130," said Hergenrother.

Hergenrother, who has worked in numerous missions to assist Polish and American military exchanges when the Polish Air Force acquired the F-16, was deployed to help coordinate resources and information sharing, classified the event as enriching experience to our NATO relationship, as well.

This is a cultural experience to help a relatively new NATO country. This is giving Poland an opportunity to succeed in the mission of NATO, said Hergenrother.

"I don't know how to explain it," said Schlussler describing his cultural exchange with Florczak. "I learn things by helping. So I am improving my knowledge of C-130 avionics by working with the Polish airmen and I am helping to improve our relationship with the Polish Air Force."

"It is nice that although we may not speak the same language, we find commonality in our jobs and can always make each other laugh," added Schlussler. "It's remarkable how much alike we are."

This commonality in their jobs allowed Schlussler and Florczak to work together to repair a part on the Peoria C-130 ahead of a demonstration flight with Polish air Force members.

"He worked very diligently to get us the part. He drove us around and helped us get the part to the aircraft," said Schlussler "We were able to fix the plane while working as a team."

Working as a team is an essential target of the state partnership programs, given the goal of the of the Polish Air Force to eventually use the C-130 to assist NATO force in the War on Terrorism by flying NATO missions to deployed locations by fall 2009.

"Ultimately they want to deploy C-130s to the NATO mission in Afghanistan," said Col. Cory Reid, 182nd Mission Support Group Commander, who helped liaise the mission to Poland. "Our mission is the help assist them to become fully operational to NATO standards."

The 182nd has been continuously involved in partnership with the Polish Air Force since their acquisition of the C-130. Poland is the Illinois National Guard's sister unit in the SPP that began in 1993. The purpose of the SPP is to link the National Guard states and territories with partner countries to foster mutual interests and establish long-term relationships across all levels of society. The SPP with Poland was one of the first three SPP relationships initiated between the National Guard and the former Soviet Eastern Block countries.

Working hand and hand with the Polish Air Force, the 182nd Airlift Wing has furthered the SPP program. Florczak summed up the experience as a way to move forward quickly.

"I think without you we would have to spend a lot of time looking through technical orders which are thousands of pages," said Florczak.

A unique element to note is that the technical orders that the Polish Air Force look through are mostly the same ones that their counterparts at the 182nd look though and are all written in English. And while technical orders can be difficult to read, even if you understand English as well as the next United States Airman, the Polish Air Force.

Members persevere on so that they may join the forces at work against terrorism. This perseverance is a comfort given that language and culture is not a barrier to the collective efforts of these allies. And because this is only the beginning of their C-130 partnership, it is easy to say, 'Do zobaczenia jutro' or 'see you soon' in English, knowing that they will soon be joining their C-130s to the war effort.