When Ivana Lowe’s clients see her, they feel relaxed and can let go of their everyday worries. As an esthetician on Long Island, New York, her days are filled with giving massages, facials, and pedicures that involve warm sudsy water, casual conversation or maybe a client nodding off. This was what she dreamed of when she left Poland 30 years ago, as Ivana Zanio, for a better life.
Now she wishes she could give her family living in Poland this same comfort. “Just like what Russia is doing to Ukraine they could do to Poland and all different European countries. I talk to my family. They are scared right now. They really are scared,” Lowe said of her family who still lives in a small city in the northeast corner of the country.
Russia’s unwarranted aggression into Ukraine has been cause for concern for other nearby countries – like Poland, which is a NATO member.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Europe District is working on several missions in Poland in support of its NATO allies that include housing, equipping, and training U.S. troops. These missions aim to deter and not escalate potential aggression and provide a sense of security for citizens of NATO countries.
Housing U.S. Soldiers
If U.S. troops are sent to a NATO country to provide support, they need living areas.
Europe District’s Real Estate Office heads this effort, as well as many other real estate functions throughout Europe. “Our office acquires, manages, releases and disposes of real estate interests – like leases, licenses, and international agreements — for approximately 1,700 contract requirements in support of our partners in Europe,” said Anne Kosel, Europe District, chief of Real Estate Division.
Ravi Ajodah, USACE, North Atlantic Division Chief of Interagency, International and Environmental Division, said, “When things were not looking good for Ukraine and U.S. troops were being deployed to Poland, Europe District’s Real Estate Office had to act quickly. They worked with our Polish allies to lease land that is now being used to provide shelter for troops with the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command and the 82nd Airborne Division.”
With additional troops recently deployed, including some to Poland, approximately 100,000 troops are now currently stationed throughout Europe – the highest concentration of American forces in Europe since the end of World War II.
Roughly 12,000 of those U.S. troops are in Poland to train with Polish forces and to assist with evacuees from Ukraine, many of whom arrived after Ukraine was invaded Feb. 24, 2022.
“Ukraine evacuees in Poland are getting housing and work,” Lowe said. “They’ve adopted Poland, the country, for themselves. With the U.S. helping Poland, they must feel protected. They feel like they have somebody behind them. They are thankful for that.”
Equipped and Ready
If a NATO country is attacked, deployed U.S. troops will need equipment quickly.
USACE, in collaboration with Polish contractors, is constructing a combat-configured storage complex in Powidz, Poland, to store equipment for U.S. troops. “This complex is the first of its kind in Eastern Europe and will augment the handful of similar, older sites the Army operates in Western Europe in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy,” said Europe District acting Public Affairs Chief Christopher Gardner.
The project is primarily funded by NATO and Europe District Senior Project Engineer James O’Riley noted, “This is the largest NATO investment in the last 30 years and will allow the rapid deployment of a full armor combat brigade wherever it may be needed.”
The complex will be operated by the U.S. Army’s 405th Army Field Support Brigade in partnership with local Polish forces.
Gardner also said the overall storage facility will comprise roughly 650,000 square feet of humidity-controlled warehouse space, including a vehicle maintenance facility, several additional supporting facilities, and 58,000 square feet of earth-covered munitions storage. In addition, USACE constructed rail tracks and links to facilitate the movement of equipment to and from the site.
He added that the complex will store approximately 85 battle tanks, 190 armored combat vehicles, 35 artillery, and four armored vehicle-launched bridges along with other supporting equipment.
These storage complexes save critical time. If there wasn’t a facility, moving this amount of equipment from the U.S. to Poland could take from 45 to 60 days. With this new site in Poland the timeline is reduced to four to seven days to issue the equipment for operational employment.
Even in times when there is no conflict, these facilities are useful. The stored equipment can be drawn for use in training and exercises.
The complex is expected to be completed late this winter or early spring and additional structures are expected to be added to it in the future, such as an airflight hangar.
In addition to this new complex, USACE has been modernizing the existing storage facilities that support readiness throughout Europe within western NATO countries since 2017.
O’Riley noted current events in Eastern Europe have punctuated the importance of projects like this storage facility in Powidz and others in the region. “I’m quite proud of what we’re doing here,” he added. “It helps build a safer world and build NATO’s presence and capabilities.”
Gardner added that this work is in addition to dozens of comparatively smaller construction projects USACE has completed at various bases in Poland in recent years. “These range from renovating and building new facilities at the Polish military base in Poznan where the forward element of the U.S. Army’s Fifth Corps, or V Corps, was recently moved to working closely with Polish partners and the U.S. Army’s 7th Army Training Command on improvements to Polish training areas that benefit U.S., Polish and other partner forces that use the sites for regular training and international exercises,” he said.
The work is not just in support of soldiers. USACE personnel have also overseen design and construction of projects like runway improvements and administrative facilities at Poland’s Lask Air Base, which supports NATO air policing operations and is where U.S. Air Force personnel regularly partner with Polish allies.
With equipment ready, troops will need training.
USACE, Europe District is working in close coordination with Polish partners and the U.S. Army’s 7th Army Training Command on the upgrading of several training ranges throughout Poland — including in Żagań and Drawsko Pomorskie — that are used by U.S. troops, Polish, and other partners forces for regular training and international exercises.
Many of the current training grounds have not been updated in decades and USACE is getting them into shape for the 21st century.
“We’re doing everything from ground improvements to vehicle maintenance facilities to range towers and anything that facilitates training at these ranges,” said Israel Miller, civilian civil engineer, USACE, Europe District, who has supported a variety of training range improvement projects at Polish military training ranges across the country over the past several years.
Miller said that training ranges in Poland help our Polish allies maintain readiness and the ability to defend themselves and are important for joint training, too, where Polish forces, U.S. forces, and other allies train together.
Ajodah, who oversees the work being performed by the Europe District for NATO, said, “Deterrence measures like all of the ones mentioned are important for several reasons the general public should understand. First, they provide a stable world. It’s in our best economic, societal, and cultural interest. It’s nice to travel to Europe knowing that you’re going to be safe.”
“Second, they help our NATO allies promote a sense of stability,” Ajodah continued. “Third, they prevent escalation. Things can get out of hand pretty quickly. If we are not careful, greater, more devastating conflicts can happen. Bringing military equipment into Europe and providing shelter for U.S. troops is not done to get ready for war, it’s done to prevent war from happening. It’s not in our interest to have a long, drawn-out war that would only negatively impact citizens.”
“And last, we may forget it, but we are globally connected, whether it’s the stuff we buy or where we travel. Having the bad guys know the largest and strongest military of mankind is trying to keep the peace and be ready, that should be enough to stand down conflicts.”
Lowe’s family in Poland may not know the exact details of these USACE missions supporting NATO, but they’re certainly feeling what the U.S. wants them to feel: a sense of security. “My family in Poland is very grateful for what the United States is doing and that there are U.S. troops on the ground just in case something happens,” Lowe said. “They feel protected.”