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NEWS | June 12, 2020

Army Reserve unit improves quality of life for NATO troops

By Maj. Olha Vandergriff 652nd Regional Support Group

NOTE: This is the ninth in an 11-part series on the 652nd Regional Support Group, out of Helena, Montana. The unit arrived in Poland September 5, 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 Bemowo Piskie base camp.

Of the 11 Polish base camps the 652nd Regional Support Group supports, Bemowo Piskie Training Area is perhaps the most unique.

BPTA is the allied Soldier’s eastern most base, and furthest away from the other Soldiers stationed in Poland. It is different from the others because it houses over 1,200 NATO forces from seven different countries. A cross-cultural, diverse base like that requires a talented mayor cell team to provide base operations support.

“There is an Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group here with Romanian, Croatian, U.K., and U.S Soldiers,” Capt. Craig Allison, the mayor of BPTA base camp, said.

“Other forces here are regionally aligned forces, postal units, the RSG, Movement Control Team, and there is an Air Force joint tactical air controller unit to coordinate with pilots. There are civil affairs here too and the Scotts, who are part of the U.K. military. There are Fijians here too, and they serve with U.K. troops.”

Allison, a logistics officer from Caldwell, Indiana, who commissioned with a degree in finance and accounting, overseas the 652nd RSG mayor cell team of three noncommissioned officers – Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Ray, Sgt. 1st Class Than Munske, and Staff Sgt. Austin Eveland. The 652nd team, an Army Reserve unit out of Helena, Montana, is tasked with providing base support across 11 forward operating sites in Poland. BPTA is the only NATO base camp.

“On BPTA as a mayor I handle coordinating base activities, space planning, resource allocation, etc. The difference is that we have NATO troops here,” explains Allison. “We have to coordinate things with other nations. For example, even our motor poor, one part is all the tanks from U.S. and other nations have their vehicles with maintenance tents and other areas.”

His background in finance helped him figure out the most optimal configuration of tents. Because the team is working on a NATO base, everything they add, change or update has to be reviewed and agreed on with other nations. Allison’s experience in cost analysis has helped him build a plan for the long run and make decisions that makes sense.

“We can build stuff to an extent, but all of our things need to go through command,” explains Allison. “Concrete is a key word for them. You have to make sure you say concrete pad, maintenance pad. It has to be mobile.”

Allison has a history of service in his family. His father and his mother both served in the U.S. Navy in the medical career field, and his sister served as a musician in the Marine Corps band. When asked why he chose to serve in the Army as a logistician versus in the Navy, he simply responds with “I like moving things.”

Ray is a food service noncommissioned officer out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He serves as a noncommissioned officer in change for the BPTA mayor cell and oversees another member of the team.

“I find myself putting out a lot of fires between everyone and everything and trying to deflect the issues. The Soldiers who are stationed here should not feel it,” explains Ray. “I’m also in charge of buildings, morale welfare and recreation events, and the dining facility. We have food service Soldiers supplementing the NATO dining facility.”

As a project manager on the civilian side, Ray manages a lot of projects and ideas among employees around the world. Working in a multicultural environment is nothing new to him.

“I work for Comcast as a project manager and I work with employees across the world,” describes Ray. “I think I bring a constant; I try to think a few steps ahead, stay proactive, and try to get to the common goal.”

Ray described working with a base full of different cultures as challenging, but exciting. Each Soldier brings a unique background and mindset to the base. The battle group’s mindset is focused on training and providing deterrence, more aggressive in nature, while the Regional Support group serves in a more of a caretaker role.

“We face language barriers, cultural barriers and just understanding how everyone works,” said Ray. “We try to bring people together. I have a text messaging group with all the nations.”

Working alongside Ray is Munzke, a psychological operations noncommissioned officer from Denver, Colorado. He serves as the mayor cell’s contracting officer representative.

“I volunteered to come here; I through it would be a good experience. I’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq and other places and I thought this trip to Poland would be different than other ones,” explains Munzke with a smile.

Munzke oversees contracting projects on the base. He is required to understand all contracts on the base camp, provide reports on contract performance, and constantly monitor the contract execution. Munzke also has to communicate with the representatives from the contracting companies and let them know if contracts are not being performed to standard.

“As COR, I deal with contractors and workers. My job is to make sure contracts are being executed correctly, a lot of little things, but make a big difference,” Munzke said.

During his time at BPTA, the team established two fully functioning logistical supply areas. This means that more than 20 tents, showers and bathrooms were established to house U.S. and NATO transient troops. Due to his oversight, he also decreased laundry turnaround time from several days to one day.

Base operations would not run smoothly if it wasn’t for establishing good working relationships on and off base. Eveland, a signal support systems specialist from Arlington, Washington, takes care of that.

“One of the things we started to do is to play board games,” Eveland explained. “There are Soldiers from each nation who play Catan. We play a game, and all bring a treat, and may not all speak the language, but the game brings everyone together.”

During his time on base Eveland made numerous friendships with other nations. Together they built chapel pulpits, mirror stands for the gym, benches, gazebos, and even wooden toys to donate to the local orphanages. Each new item improved the conditions for U.S. and NATO troops living on base, but also furthered their friendship.

“We made the cornhole boards for the Polish and now the Croatians want some,” Eveland said with a laugh.

Ray started to play basketball with other nations on weekly basis. Croatian Soldiers invited him one day and it became a tradition.

Overall, the team accomplished many projects. With a significant footprint to cover, they created the first ever property book hand receipt, which is currently over 19 pages. They revamped key control systems for the buildings and living areas, issuing all Soldiers two keys. Through the COR process they also relocated the Army and Air Force Exchange store from a container to a spacious tent. A complete reorganization of the USO and MWR allowed Soldiers from other nations to find a place to relax.

“As far as base operations, we are in charge. We are setting a footprint for next Regional Support Group,” confirmed Munzke.

But all four agree the culture and history of Poland makes this deployment so different from others.

“This deployment is different because you didn’t have access to the other nations’ soldiers in a Central Command deployment. Here they want you to know, they want you to experience the culture and food,” Ray said. “I enjoyed the culture and history.”

“One of my rules is to “go native” to try all the foods and experience the culture,” said Munzke. “This is my first time in Poland, and I love it. I have tried everything.”