THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
Posted Apr 12, 2010 @ 05:02 PM
Illinois’ top National Guard officer is heading to Poland to attend funeral services for the people killed in a weekend plane crash in Russia.
Maj. Gen. William Enyart, adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, personally knew some of the Polish military officers on the plane. The Illinois National Guard and Polish forces have been training with each other since 1993 and have deployed together to Iraq and Afghanistan, said Maj. Brad Leighton, spokesman for the Guard.
“We work with them very closely. They are our brothers in arms,” Leighton said.
On Saturday, a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of Polish political, military and religious leaders crashed near Smolensk in western Russia. The contingent was on its way to a memorial at nearby Katyn forest honoring thousands of Polish military officers who were executed 70 years ago by Joseph Stalin’s secret police.
The plane, a Tu-154 owned by the Polish government, crashed in dense fog. All 96 aboard were killed.
Over the years, members of the Polish military, including land and air forces, have come here to train. Illinois National Guard soldiers also have traveled to Poland.
Staff Sgt. Mike Markham of rural Chatham spent about 10 months serving with Polish soldiers in Afghanistan. Despite their cultural differences, the Americans and Poles became friends and made a good team, he said.
“Once you come under fire, you get to be pretty good buddies,” Markham said.
During patrols with the Polish soldiers, the group encountered improvised explosive devices and small arms fire.
“I was never afraid to go out with them,” said Markham, who returned home around Christmas time. “They spoke good enough English so you could communicate and get the job done.”
Some of the officers killed in the weekend plane crash had visited the group in Afghanistan, Markham said.
“They weren’t stationed there, but they would come over from time to time for big events like Polish holidays,” Markham said. “It’s kind of crazy to see the list of names and (know) they are all gone now.”
About 20 Illinois Guard soldiers are currently deployed to Afghanistan with Polish forces.
Enyart is traveling with Brig. Gen. Steven Huber, deputy commander of the Illinois Army National Guard. The two are expected to leave today.
Federal officials are covering the cost of the trip, Leighton said.
“We felt it important that the Illinois National Guard be represented in Poland,” Leighton said. “… This is not just a formal relationship. These are friendships that have been developed over the years of working with the Polish military.”
Gov. Pat Quinn and 15 other Illinois National Guard soldiers also are paying their respects. They will sign a book of condolences today at Poland’s Consulate General office in Chicago.
The Polish officials in Chicago will also be given an American flag that was flown at half-staff in front of the Illinois National Guard’s headquarters in Springfield.
Polish Troops in Afghanistan Attend Memorial Service for Crash Victims:
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04/10/2010 - Personnel stationed at Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Afghanistan, kneel during a memorial service April 10, 2010. The service honored Lech Kaczynski, Polish President, his wife and some of their country's top military and civilian leaders who died in a plane crash April 10, 2010.
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04/10/2010 - U.S. and Polish service members attend a memorial service on Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Afghanistan, April 10, 2010, in honor of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, who died in a plane crash April 10, 2010, along with several of the country’s top military and civilian leaders.
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04/10/2010 - The Polish flag flies at half staff at Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Afghanistan, April 10, 2010, to honor Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president. Kaczynski's plane crashed earlier in the day.
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04/11/2010 - Members of the 1st Battery, 23rd Brigade Polish Army, Task Force White Eagle, conduct a fire mission at Forward Operating Base Ghazni, April 11, 2010. The mission supported the 172nd Cavalry (CAV) Vermont National Guard. The 172nd CAV working with Afghanistan National Police requested the support when their combined unit came under enemy fire while conducting operations
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