POWIDZ, Poland –
NOTE: This is the fourth in an 11-part series on the 652nd Regional Support Group, out of Helena, Montana. The unit arrived in Poland on Sept. 26 to begin a mobilization where they became the first Army Reserve unit responsible for the operations of 11 (originally 10) base camps throughout the country. The series breaks down what teams do at each base camp. This story focuses on the Powidz base camp.
When Soldiers start a new mobilization - especially if it is their first time out of the United States - they are often overcome with a lot of feelings and questions.
What is it like? Where will I live? What are the people like? How can I communicate with my loved ones back home?
In Poland, these questions are soon answered by 1st Sgt. Alicia Roethler, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Powidz Air Base mayor cell. Roethler delivers the welcome brief to all incoming American Soldiers arriving at Powidz, which is the first stop for the majority of the units mobilizing into Poland.
Roethler’s unit, the 652nd Regional Support Group, 364th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 79th Theater Sustainment Command, is responsible for the base operations at 11 different base camps throughout Poland. This means the 652nd is tasked with giving the Soldiers on each camp what they need to live.
“I look at it kind of as an expanded role of a first sergeant,” Roethler explained. “Your main mission as a first sergeant is to take care of Soldiers, to make sure every single Soldier has whatever they need and are well-provided for. So, that’s what I do as a first sergeant; I do that for my Soldiers, and on top of that I do it for more than 1,000 more Soldiers who are here. To me, that’s our job – we are here to make sure that they’re taken care of, that all their life support needs are met. That’s spiritual, physical emotional – all of that is our job.”
Powidz Air Base is a unique and vital part of the Army’s mission in Poland in support of Atlantic Resolve. Atlantic Resolve is an operation in which service members from the Department of Defense serve on rotational mobilizations to Europe to build readiness, increase interoperability and enhance the bond between ally and partner militaries through multinational training events such as Defender 2020. Defender 2020, slated to take place in the spring, will be the largest multinational training operation in Europe in more than 25 years.
Powidz is key to the Army’s mission in Poland because it serves as a transportation, maintenance and medical and aviation hub for Soldiers in Poland, Capt. Amanda Carling, the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 652nd RSG, and the mayor of Powidz Air Base, said. The 757th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, a National Guard unit out of Reno, Nevada, mobilized to Powidz, provides transportation, supply and maintenance support to the base camps throughout Poland. Meanwhile, the 1209th Area Support Medical Company, a National Guard unit from Mexico, provides medical support.
“Powidz is a logistical hub – we are combined with the airfield, so we maintain two sites and monitor contracts on both, and also one of the few base camps offering more advanced medical services,” Carling said.
It is also home to the command team for both the 652nd Regional Support Group and Area Support Group Poland, commanded by Col. Erica Herzog and Command Sgt. Maj. Duane Hedrick. The 652nd RSG is the first Army Reserve unit to head base operations for all of Poland on base camps owned by the Polish but managed by the 652nd.
The team from the mayor cell managing the Powidz Air Base consists of Carling and Roethler, 1st Lt. Zachary Schilling, Sgt. Minkyu Kim, Sgt. Bill Daniels, and Spc. David Bennyhoff. Each member of the team serves dual roles.
Carling, a logistics officer from Boise, Idaho, runs the mayor cell while serving as the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 652nd RSG commander. She and Roethler served as HHC commander and first sergeant for 11 months prior to the 652nd’s mobilization to Poland on Sept. 26. She took over a base in rapid transition at Powidz.
“Projects have started before we came, some have started now, and some will come to fruition right before we leave,” Carling said.
“These projects include partial completions of ground improvements. The motor pool is getting completed in phases. The barriers lined up at the entry control point, the arms room is nearing completion, upgrades like Combat Housing Unit awnings and other upgrades all over base. Light sets are in interim - we had over 50 lights out on the camp and worked with force protection, to add lights – small wins that keep adding up.”
Roethler, meanwhile, an Army construction supervisor, acts as a liaison between the contracting teams and all the tenant units who are affected by the ongoing projects. Nicknamed “the Sheriff”, she deconflicts issues between contractors performing work and units conducting missions on the base. The issues range from things like making announcements and alternate plans for road closures or water outages or arranging chow times for units to cut down on lines during busy times when there may be more than 20 different units on the base camp at once.
“This is where the backbone of the Army comes in. The NCOs really make things happen here,” Carling said.
Additionally, Roethler handles permanent base access, manages a team of three linguists, facilitates bus requests, and assists with billeting, making sure everyone has rooms by rank and gender. When there is a problem such as someone in a unit who is unhappy with living or space arrangements, or other issues arise, it is “the sheriff” who will handle it.
Carling said one of the biggest factors in getting projects done at Powidz was developing a strong relationship with the Polish.
Bennyhoff, a truck driver from Great Falls, Montana, has helped strengthen this relationship. Bennyhoff tracks the work orders that come in from all around the base and works with Polish maintenance and contracted maintenance workers to ensure they are completed. One way the mayor cell team does this is to eliminate some orders before they reach the Polish by performing simple fixes themselves.
“We try to troubleshoot at our level without going to the host nation with a problem,” Carling said. “The Soldiers volunteer to do this when out of uniform and outside duty hours. The host nation recognizes this. Our relationship has greatly improved because they recognize we are trying to make this base camp better before going to them with emergencies. When Soldiers are out to dinner, they come back and fix the problem and treat this place like it’s their home.”
Bennyhoff’s work has resulted in more than 180 host nation work orders being closed out since October, in addition to those handled by the contractors, which would put the total at over 250 work orders.
Like Carling and Roethler, Bennyhoff wears several hats. In addition, to tracking work orders, he runs the key control for the base camp, and serves as the driver for the colonel and command sergeant major, a duty that takes him throughout Poland. He said he draws on his civilian experience as a supervisor at a moving company to multitask his various duties. When he is gone, Bennyhoff makes sure the job still gets done.
“I work a lot with Sgt. Kim and Sgt. Daniels to make sure I have a system in place everyone in the office can use; they don’t have to rely on me being here for that system to function,” Bennyhoff said.
Kim, a supply sergeant from Pleasanton, California, handles base camp logistics and supplies. He was in charge of the considerable task of ordering supplies for all 11 base camps in Poland, then ensuring those supplies were delivered to the camps. He also is an assistant contracting officer representative, meaning he conducts monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly inspections to ensure the terms of the contracts are being met by the contractors.
Meanwhile, Daniels, also a supply sergeant, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is in charge of the billeting on Powidz. Nicknamed “the madman”, Daniels is always on the go. He briefs and supervises the mayor cell detail - the detail of Soldiers that carry out important daily functions on the base, like keeping water stocked in the gyms and at the water point and making sure the Morale Welfare and Recreation areas are staffed. The two are also on call every other weekend to make sure base operations continue uninterrupted.
Schilling, a chemical officer from Bel Air, Maryland, is the company executive officer and assistant mayor at Powidz. He facilitates base access and works with the Polish to make sure people traveling to the base are clear on what they need to get on base from Polish force protection requirements to the U.S. Army and military police requirements. He is also a contracting officer representative, the environmental officer for the base camp, MWR officer in charge, billeting officer in charge, and safety officer.
Schilling plays a key role in the constant movement of units in and out of Powidz.
“It starts with needing increased life support and all the moving pieces that go into it,” Schilling explained. “I start with mathematical projections, and then do a physical terrain model to see if my math checks out. Then first sergeant has to come through and adapt and overcome when something doesn’t work out.”
He said he sees the work of his teammates when conducting inspections.
“I’ll walk around, and see a problem, and then I’ll look up and see a sign posted that says don’t do that,” he said with a laugh.
While Powidz is already a hub for operations in Poland, the mayor cell has identified future goals to further improve the base camp.
Roethler said one of the goals of the team is to implement an education center on Powidz. This would allow Soldiers on Powidz to take Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery tests and do other services on Powidz that used to require Soldiers to travel to Germany.
Carling said another goal is to put together what she has dubbed the multicomplex – a building featuring a Morale Welfare and Recreation center, Army and Air Force Exchange Service store and other services all under one structure.
“That will be big for us,” Carling said.
In their time working here, the Montana Soldiers have come to feel at home in the lakeside town just outside the gate, too.
“I really enjoy Powidz, it’s the best little town,” Roethler said. “I run around the lake all the time, and it would not be the same if I was in Poznan or anywhere else. It’s a great little town, you see the little old ladies walking to church or the fishermen out on a boat. It’s awesome, it’s a really neat town.”