TRZEBIEN, Poland –
NOTE: This is the eights in an 11-part series on the 652nd Regional Support Group, out of Helena, Montana. The unit arrived in Poland September 26, 2019, 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 Swietoszow base camp.
Trzebien, Poland, a small team in a small Polish village has been preparing for a big exercise.
First Lt. Katherine Choi, a human resources officer from Seattle, Washington, and Staff Sgt. Joel Brown, a wheeled vehicle mechanic from Helena Montana, make a small but mighty mayor cell team. The two have been working for months to ready the tiny base camp at Trzebien, Poland, for troops in the Defender Europe 20-plus training exercise. Then plans changed.
Trzebien was one of the training bases planned for use during allied training exercise Defender Europe 20. Units that were scheduled to come to Trzebien would practice various maneuvers and use the ranges for shooting.
“The units can come out here and do gunnery and ranges, rangers are right outside of camp, so they don’t have to travel far for training,” Choi said.
The team expected armor, engineering, and sustainment Soldiers to come to Trzebien for the training. Then the unthinkable happened. COVID19, or a virus commonly known as coronavirus, caused a worldwide pandemic. Due to restriction of moment practiced all around the world, only the initial group of Soldiers showed up. Choi and Brown had to adjust their operations and prepare to keep the Soldiers that arrived safe.
“We confined the Soldiers to base,” explains Choi. “We promoted teamwork on getting and distributing cleaning supplies and cleaning the base. We also had temperature checks at the gate,” explained Choi.
When the Soldiers left, Trzebien re-entered what is known as “warm-basing” status.
Trzebien base camp is one of five bases that are a part of a Zagan base cluster- a group of U.S. Army bases around Zagan, Poland. There are no permanently stationed Soldiers at Trzebien. While no troops are training in Trzebien, it is considered a “warm-basing” base.
“Warm-basing means we have a base in place, but we don’t have all the troops yet, so anytime we get RAF (regionally aligned forces) units, the base gets turned on. We were expecting about 500 Soldiers,” explains Choi.
While the base is in the “warm-basing” status, the team works on improving every aspect of it. Choi and Brown worked on developing and preparing a dining facility, establishing a laundry facility, preparing the gym area, laying down concrete floors, and setting up tents.
“It’s isolated out here, you come out here and can focus on mission,” explains Brown.
Brown and Choi are part of the 652nd Regional Support Group, a U.S. Army Reserve unit out of Helena, Montana. The 652nd RSG is the first U.S. Army Reserve unit tasked with providing base operations for 11 base camps in Poland. Base support includes taking care of lodging, dining, and recreational needs of the tenant Soldiers assigned to that base.
Choi, who commissioned from the University of Washington as an adjutant general officer, has been in the Army for eight years. Meanwhile, Brown has served as a mechanic for over 12 years. He moved to Helena, Montana and transferred from the 651st Quartermaster Company, a subordinate unit in the 652nd Regional Support Group, to join the unit for the mobilization to Poland.
“Two days before train-up (at Ft. Hood) we figured out we were working together. It all kind of changed last minute,” explains Brown. “I didn’t get into the unit till last minute, had to extend to go to Poland last minute, and our base assignment changed last minute too.”
With a base almost exclusively to themselves, Brown and Choi said they have learned how to function together as a team.
“I got really lucky. She’s very customer oriented, she knows how to talk to people. I’m just this noise in the corner who can get stuff done,” explains Brown. “Any time I need to write something down, I have her look over it. When she’s trying to write a letter of justification, I would tell her how to change it, make it precision language which is important for contracting.”
Choi and Brown worked hard to establish the new gym floor. Previous gym area had plywood floors, which do not withstand heavy usage. The team processed a letter of justification for concrete floors in the gym. They also ordered and placed equipment necessary for a new Army physical fitness test. They extended the gym, allowing one part to be a weightlifting area and another as a cardio area.
“We have to pull out a red book to find out what we need to even meet the minimum criteria for field conditions. The contracting officer came out to measure everything,” explains Brown. “We try to get ahead of things before they become issues.”
Choi and Brown also set up a new morale, welfare and recreation area with all equipment. This will allow Soldiers to relax after a long day at the range.
When asked how they are able to work together on an isolated base they say they listen to music and tell stories to each other.
“I’m always blasting music,” said Choi.
“I’m a man of a million stories. If she doesn’t get tired of them yet, that means we didn’t get to the end of them and started over again,” said Brown.
Trzebien is a small town, a one-stoplight-town as Brown describes it. When allowed to leave the base, Choi and Brown interact with the people, building relationships for when new Soldiers arrive for training.
“We are bringing a positive presence to the area,” Brown said.