Meet the U.S. Army Reserve mayors at Zagan base camp in Poland

By Master Sgt. Ryan Matson | 652nd Regional Support Group | Jan. 21, 2020

ZAGAN, Poland —

Putting the right people in the right positions to succeed is a key part of building a good team.

At the Zagan mayor cell, responsible for providing basic life-sustaining services for U.S. Soldiers and their allies at Zagan base camp, Capt. Matthew Paulhus of the 652nd Regional Support Group feels he has done just that.

“Anything we can do to sustain and improve quality of life for Soldiers on the base camp, we’re going to do it,” Paulhus said.

Paulhus, an Everett, Washington, native, is the mayor and officer in charge of the Zagan base camp team. The team heads the Zagan “cluster,” a string of five base camps in Southwestern Poland – Zagan, Boleslawic, Swietszow, Trzebien and Karliki – which the 652nd is responsible for overseeing daily operations on. Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas, are the main group of Soldiers the cluster teams work to ensure are enjoying the best quality of life on the base camps.

To accomplish the dual mission of running the base at Zagan and managing the teams at the other four base camps, Paulhus has drawn heavily on the experience and talents of two noncommissioned officers, Staff Sgt. James Campbell and Sgt. Milton Candelaria Jr.

When it comes to base operations, Campbell, from Great Falls, Montana, brings a wealth of knowledge to the team at Zagan.

“Everybody’s new to base operations except for Sgt. Campbell,” Paulhus said. “There’s a lot of coordinating and getting a standard response to solving different problems – how a problem at one base could affect another base.”

Campbell’s 22 years of military experience and four prior deployments have provided a framework of skills and abilities to help lead the team as the deputy mayor of Zagan. The tasks key to the day-to-day operations of running a base camp are very familiar to him.

“I pull from all my deployment experiences, because I’ve ran brigade postal operations, I’ve ran fuel operations, I’ve done personal security (and other tasks associated with operating a base),” Campbell said.

On his last deployment, to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012, also with the 652nd, Campbell was part of the Department of Public Works section at Kandahar Air Field, one of the largest forward operating bases in the country.

“We were responsible for infrastructure on the base – power, water, sewer, road works, fence lines, all that kind of stuff,” Campbell explained. “I managed 2,700 acres and 600 buildings. The units would come to me with their requirements and I would set them up with the land they needed.”

More importantly, Campbell, who carries Occupational Safety and Health Administration certifications, brings the unique skills of an Army Reserve “citizen-Soldier” to the table. He worked for a large steel fabrication company in Montana that helped build the Atlanta Falcons stadium and the Salt Lake City, Utah, airport. These skills, beyond his military training, benefit his ability to assist with the ongoing projects in the cluster, Campbell said.

“I use a lot more of my civilian experience in construction, specifically for facility improvement,” he said. “For example, I know what’s required for graveling motor pools. I help go through the work orders and since I have electrical experience, if the problem is something simple like a breaker, I can fix it right away.”

The third member of the team, Sgt. Milton Candelaria Jr., may not possess the base operations experience of his counterpart, but brings other assets to the team.

Candelaria, who is from Brooklyn, New York, but relocated to Broadview, Montana, is a self-described “people person.” The outgoing Soldier has worked closely with Alex, the linguist at Zagan, in coordinating with the Polish to make sure his primary responsibility – handling the work orders at the base camp – is done as efficiently as possible.

“I’ve learned a lot here,” Candelaria, a veteran of four years of active service in the Marine Corps and eight additional years in the Marine Reserve before joining the Army Reserve shortly before the mobilization to Poland, admitted. “Not just processes on base, but also the language and people.”

Candelaria has made an effort to try to learn the Polish language phrase by phrase, something that is noticed by the Polish civilians and contractors he works with daily, even when performing simple tasks like putting up bulbs with electricians. Since the main buildings at Zagan are World War II billets being remodeled by the Polish, Candelaria stays busy.

Candelaria has also used organizational skills he has developed from his experience as an administrative noncommissioned officer to establish a comprehensive tracker on the status of work orders and fine-tuned the work order process.

“I track everything from lights, to leaking pipes, to replacing doors and shower curtains – improving everything so people are more comfortable here,” Candelaria said.

He is also using his communication skills to start building a community relations program with the people of the community.

Paulhus’ team, with three people, is the most staffed team in the cluster. The teams at Boleslawic, Swietszow, Trzebien, and Karliki are each staffed with two people, most without prior base operations experience, tasked with keeping the sites running.

“It’s about managing the people and trying to keep an overall team mentality,” Paulhus said. “We make sure we keep communicating between the base camps and cross-talking to work out issues.”

Despite lacking experience, Campbell said his counterparts in the Zagan cluster have answered the challenge.

“They’re way beyond anything I expected,” Campbell said. “They picked up on stuff they’ve never done before and never skipped a beat. Take Chief Anderson at Karliki, he jumped into a place that just basically got built, he worked with Sgt. Clark to get everything up and running to a state where it’s now a functioning base, not just a set of tents. They set standards and signage and focused and their jobs, and that’s been the case at every location in the cluster.”

Since arriving at Zagan in October, Paulhus said the team’s steady efforts have led to what he calls “small wins” in improving life for Soldiers at Zagan. While day-to-day they may sometimes go unnoticed, Paulhus said things like improving the work order process, providing the Armed Forces Network in the dining facility and other small improvements add up.

“We’ve given people a lot of hope,” Campbell said. “Some of the equipment has come in already, and we also let them know the plans for the base with the gym, the Morale Welfare and Recreation centers, maintenance facilities, so they see progress is being made.”

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