A return to their roots for Polish-Canadian soldiers

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Article / August 15, 2016

By: Captain Philippe Desjardins

Since May 2014, the Operation REASSURANCE Land Task Force (LTF) has been deployed to Poland to support NATO’s reassurance and deterrence measures. Canadian soldiers are taking part in multinational military exercises in order to improve their interoperability capability with NATO allies in Central Europe and in Eastern Europe, and especially in Poland.

As is the case for any operation abroad, Canada’s military must adapt to their new environment, which means having a basic understanding of the Polish people’s customs, language and history. In fact, daily life and the Polish language are different from what Canadian soldiers may have experienced elsewhere, whether at home or on other missions.

To facilitate the integration and co-operation process with the Polish Army, the Canadian Armed Forces has deployed, within the LTF, soldiers of Polish origin who speak their language fluently. These military members, whose title is Language and Cultural Advisor (LCA), are de facto experts in Polish-Canadian relations and serve as guides for their LTF colleagues.

It’s an incredible experience,” said Corporal Szymon Poczta, a signaller in the Canadian Army, originally from Krotoszyn Wielkopolska (Poland), who is working as an LCA within the LTF. “I never thought that I would come to Poland to work with the Forces! My deployment gave me an opportunity to come back here for the first time in 10 years, and I have been able to visit my extended family almost every weekend. Furthermore, instead of returning to Canada for my leave, I brought over my parents who had not been here in 20 years.

The LCAs help other Canadian military members interact with the Polish people in a broad range of areas. The Advisors serve as translators in the context of meetings, military exercises, local purchases, Internet connection repairs, hospital visits, haircuts and much more.

The most difficult aspect of their work is to juggle all those translation requests. The Senior LCA must prioritize the requests and then distribute the tasks among his four-member team.

During major exercises with the Polish, the LCAs were viewed as a rare gem and many members of the LTF would have hoped to have more of them around. They served as cultural advisors in order to facilitate interactions between Canadian commanders and Polish commanders, and they often found themselves in Canadian infantry platoons to assist with co-operation among the soldiers. For visibility purposes, many requests for LCAs were transferred to communities in the Drawsko Pomorkie region, where Canadians are based.

A challenge I had to face was the fact that this job really pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Corporal Adrien Ramian, a clerk in the Canadian Army born in Rzeszów (Poland), who immigrated to Canada in 2000. “I had to translate conversations on subjects I was not familiar with, such as electricity, materials, procurement and contracts.

On several occasions, the members of the LTF benefitted from the expertise of LACs during their sightseeing tours and their outings to restaurants and movies. The Advisors’ work thus covers all facets of their expertise of Polish life. For the members of the LTF, the LACs were essential to their mission and wellbeing.

Coming here was an unequalled life experience for me,” concluded Corporal Poczta. “I would certainly like to come back here for another deployment, if possible.

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