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Dream team in Poland gets the job done

By Maj. Olha Vandergriff | 652nd Regional Support Group | July 10, 2020

DRAWSKO POMORSKIE, Poland —

NOTE: This is the eleventh in an 11-part series on the 652nd Regional Support Group, out of Helena, Montana. The unit arrived in Poland on Sept. 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 Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area base camp.

After a year overseeing the facilities at Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area — the site of one of the largest military exercises in Poland in recent history — Capt. Jocelynn Oliver’s mayor cell team has grown as tight as the fabric that holds one of the tents on camp together.

It took a lot of work along the way.

“Being that naturally quiet person and watching them when they didn’t know they were being watched, I was able to figure out their personalities,” Oliver, the mayor of DPTA and a logistics officer from Atlanta, said.

“I figured out areas in which they can possibly work and build in other areas.”

Oliver’s team is part of the 652nd Regional Support Group, a U.S. Army Reserve unit out of Helena, Montana. The RSG is responsible for providing life-sustaining operations on a military base. This includes every facet of Soldier life, from billeting to laundry and the dining facility. Since the 652nd is the first U.S. Army Reserve unit in Poland to perform this mission, there was a lot to be done.

The team had one of the more unique base operation missions in Poland. They began with virtually no inhabitants on the training area and worked to prepare it for Defender, one of the biggest exercises planned in central Europe in the last 25 years.

Oliver, a graduate of Florida Atlantic University with a masters degree in operations management drew on some of her experience as a logistics manager for a large company on the civilian side.

“There has been a lot of processes and standardization created through various forms,” Oliver said.

She said developing the property accountability system (going from a 7-page to 18-page property book), cleaning out and creating a Morale Welfare and Recreation center, establishing base access procedures, creating key control logs and overseeing multiple ground improvement projects were some of the team’s biggest accomplishments.

However, their biggest contribution has been overseeing the build-up of four logistical support areas - Konotop, Ziemsko, Glebokie, and Jaworze. The four LSAs, created to accommodate large scale exercises in DPTA, were prepared for the NATO troops scheduled to participate in Defender Europe 20. The scope and size of the exercise was reduced when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“COVID made it a little bit more difficult,” Master Sgt. Milton Phillips said.

“It affected us like everyone else. The job remained the same; we still provide life-sustaining functions for those four areas. We can’t go to out to town and hang out with the local people, but that’s no different anywhere else.”

Phillips, a veteran from Rowlett, Texas with 24 years of service, joined the deployment later in the year. During his service in the Marine Corps and the Army, he experienced various overseas missions all over the world. But this is his first time in Europe.

“I spent my first couple of tours of active duty in the Marine Corps and a lot of that was spent in southeast Asia, Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong, Australia, South Korea, Kuwait, Iraq, a few more places” Phillips said.

“I’ve never been to Europe before, and it was really exciting.”

Phillips joined the team after the team dynamics were already established. But he quickly started to assist as a liaison officer in the Joint Operations Coordination Cell. The team worked hard already, but Phillips brought in expertise as a senior noncommissioned officer.

“They are a smart, dedicated crew,” Phillips explained. “Capt. Oliver had a good team when I showed up. My goal was to make sure I augmented and helped them out as much as possible. There are only six, so you need to be willing to roll your sleeves up and work a little bit.”

Three members of the team are brand new sergeants, but that did not stop them from not only accomplishing the mission but exceeding expectations. As a mayor cell team, each one of them had to interact with high-ranking U.S and Polish military officials, Department of Defense civilians and contractors to solve complex issues on the spot.

“I work with military police,” Sgt. Richard Thomas, a military police noncommissioned officer from Corvallis, Montana, said. “They respond quickly and always willing to help out. I developed this working relationship and helped coordinate the U.S. Army military police work with ZD (Polish military police).”

Thomas started his deployment at the Powidz, Poland, base camp, and was later relocated to DPTA. His duties included serving as force protection noncommissioned officer, contracting representative, and manager of red cross information.

“My favorite part is that I have been able to gain more experience working with ZD on investigations,” Thomas said.

Before the deployment, Thomas was attending college and working construction. These experiences allowed him to learn how to communicate efficiently and work with diverse group of people.

Spc. Kimberly Curtis, a unit supply specialist from Helena, Montana, is the youngest member of the team. The 21-year-old played an integral role in the base operations support integrator mission.

“I’m currently an administrative worker as part of the mayor cell,” explains Curtis. “I’m in charge of running the United Service Organization center. I coordinate schedules and order stuff for Soldiers and the facility.”

When asked what she liked about Poland the most she says the food.

“I tried borsht and ear pierogis and Polish cheesecake for dessert,” Curtis said with a smile.

Sgt. Desireh Kissinger, an information technology specialist from Clinton, Montana, served as a built-in information technology support for the team and for the tenant units. Besides that, she spearheaded base access rules, key control, and overall building management. Kissinger also designed the first-ever port map for their buildings. It was shared with and emulated by General Dynamic Information Technology contractors and adopted for other base camps in Poland. When asked how the team gets along, she simply responds that they just mesh well.

“We all have pretty easy personalities. None of us are challenging people to work with,” Kissinger explained.

“I think we all have each other’s back,” Sgt. Mark Lang, an automated logistical specialist from Kalispell, Montana, said. Lang is responsible for the motor pool, building maintenance, dining facility inspections, and the gym. On the civilian side Lang is a supervisor for the city council water department meter division. Troubleshooting maintenance issues by working together on a team was right up his alley.

Previous units on DPTA lacked a dedicated mayor cell and struggled to develop relationships with their Polish counterparts responsible for the motor pool. But Lang worked through those obstacles using a humble approach.

“We made it understood we are a guest here and the Polish are allowing us to be here, to help each other,” Lang said.

The team counts the strong relationship they built with the Polish among the biggest accomplishments of the deployment.

“The relationship with the Polish was not in good shape,” Staff Sgt. Jonathan Foust, a shower, laundry, and clothing repair noncommissioned officer from Columbia Falls, Montana, said. “All of us working totally changed their outlook on the Army. First, we listened to them.”

Foust served as deputy mayor and Oliver’s right hand. He oversaw the rest of the team, tracking their projects and progress every day. He oversaw every facet of BOSI handled by the mayor cell.

“Before us it seems like everyone was demanding things from the Polish, and we came in with a different style. Just this morning the gentlemen from the motor pool said he thinks everything will be different now the RSG is here,” Foust said.

“I have a lot of respect for them and their work ethic; I couldn’t ask for a better group,” Oliver said. “Just treat people with dignity and respect, it will take you a long way. People always remember how you made them feel.”

Overall, the team had a lot of unique experiences during their time in DTPA. Curtis went horseback riding for her 21st birthday, each team member was hosted by a Polish family for Christmas eve celebration, they went bowling, and even a mundane trip to the grocery store was an adventure.

“It was a challenge to figure out what’s what,” laugh Foust and Lang.

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