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Poland rolls out ‘Holidays with the Army’ in a recruitment drive with Russia in thoughts

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With assault rifles laid out earlier than them, the younger Polish women and men kneel on the grass and comply with orders on the way to pack their survival kits. Next comes a lesson on making use of camouflage paint to their faces. Not an excessive amount of neon, an teacher says as he reveals them the way to add darkish streaks of inexperienced.

Many on the coaching in jap Poland are new highschool graduates, with the boys’s heads freshly shaven and the ladies’s hair tied again. They have signed up for a brand new summer season program, “Holidays with the Army,” which provides primary navy coaching for hundreds of Poles aged 18 to 35.

The navy launched this system in a seek for recruits as Poland expands its 198,000-member military within the face of renewed Russian aggression within the area, together with neighboring Ukraine.

Despite this system’s title, that is no vacation. The recruits rise early to be taught fight and survival expertise. When not within the discipline, they clear their quarters. There isn’t any leaving the bottom, 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the border with Belarus, for visits dwelling or nights out. They earn 6,000 zlotys ($1,500) for the 28 days.

There has been nice curiosity in this system, which is going down at 70 places throughout Poland, officers say.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has sparked an impulse amongst Poles to need to defend the nation, stated Maj. Michal Tomczyk, a spokesperson on the Defense Ministry.

“We haven’t had such a menace since World War II,” Tomczyk said. He said they had planned for 10,000 volunteers for the program and have more than 11,000.

At the end of the training, the volunteers will take a soldier’s oath in which they swear “to serve loyally the Republic of Poland … even at the cost of losing my life or blood.” Those who choose a military life can join a branch of the professional armed services or the Territorial Defense Forces or be on standby as reservists, said Col. Pawel Galazka, commander of the 18th Lomza Logistics Regiment, a unit training the volunteers.

“The army wants to train as many citizens as possible,” Galazka said. “Everyone knows about the threat that comes from the east.”

The Lomza regiment’s training field is in a forest clearing near the Narew River. The surrounding area has been defended by generations of Poles, from the time when Poland was partitioned and ruled by foreign powers starting in the late 18th century until the early 20th century, to World War II, when the Germans and Soviets invaded.

Bunkers in the area are evidence of the Polish defense line that was broken when Nazi Germany invaded in 1939, sparking World War II.

The patriotism nurtured by the history passed on in schools and by families helped motivate young people to join the new program, Galazka said.

One volunteer, 18-year-old Dominik Rojek, originally planned to study computer science. But the troubles in the region led him to shift to a military career, driven by the desire to defend the homeland. He hopes he can still pursue his passion for computer science in the military and use his skills in cyberdefense.

“Someone has to do it,” Rojek said. “Not everyone is capable of this, but we are capable of this. … There is no other way.”

Rojek’s generation came of age in peace and enjoyed the rising prosperity that has been the dividend of Moscow-backed communism’s collapse across the region 35 years ago.

But young Poles, like those of their generation along NATO’s entire eastern front, fear they can no longer take that peace for granted.

Russia’s initial seizure of Ukrainian territory in 2014 sent jitters through the region. But its full-scale invasion has brought a major security realignment from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and forced nations and individuals to consider the prospect of one day taking up arms.

Sweden and Finland broke with their neutrality to join NATO, and some nations are considering introducing compulsory conscription. Denmark says it plans to expand its conscription to include women.

In Poland, a member of both NATO and the European Union, the threat feels close. Some stray Russian missiles have landed in Poland.

At the border with Belarus, an ally of Russia, migrants arrive in large numbers trying to enter every day, and have recently attacked Polish officials, killing one soldier. Warsaw says the migration pressure has been created by Russia and Belarus and view it as a form of hybrid warfare against the West.

“The Russians and the Belarusians have engineered an assault on our border,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said at a recent international conference in Berlin devoted to Ukraine’s recovery.

Russian officials have repeatedly threatened Poland. Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president and ally of President Vladimir Putin, has called Poland a “dangerous enemy” that risks losing its statehood.

Along Poland’s northern border is the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, where Poland believes Moscow stores about 100 tactical nuclear warheads.

Poles must think about what could happen and be prepared, said 34-year-old Magdalena Klos, one of the volunteers in the new training.

She had long dreamed of becoming a soldier but was waiting for her children to be old enough. They are now 9 and 11, and she feels the time is finally right.

“I am proud that I am wearing the uniform,” she stated. “I’m not solely a mom and a spouse but additionally a soldier.”

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Rafal Niedzielski contributed to this report.

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