A new Navy facility in Poland is key to missile defense and operations with NATO allies, as well as support to Sailors throughout the region.
A base within a base.
Inside a former military base near Slupsk, Poland, a densely populated and historically significant northern town close to the coast of the Baltic Sea, lies the U.S. Navy’s only installation in the country -- Naval Support Facility (NSF) Redzikowo.
Getting to the point where the Navy could identify the base as operational was not an easy task, to say the least, especially considering structures had to be built from the ground up and relationships with the Polish community had to be established. This undertaking required a team not only dedicated to mission success, but also to making history.
“As I share with every Sailor onboard, arriving and departing NSF Redzikowo -- treat this base now with the pride you would be proud to share with your children and grandchildren who might one day serve here,” said Capt. Eric M. Williams, the base’s commanding officer. “I am proud as a CO to be afforded the opportunity to lead a team of Sailors in which every day is an opportunity to make a difference, see the difference and be a part of history being made.”
In the past few months alone, Team Redzikowo has achieved major milestones unique to standing up a base. In June, the team took over its new headquarters as the first vertically erected building on the installation. Soon after, they shifted Colors from their temporary administrative buildings to their new center of operations.
By July, base personnel occupied all military constructed buildings. As simple as that may sound, it was far from it. It took coordination with multiple agencies, checking off logistics requirements amidst a pandemic, and ensuring that U.S. Navy traditions were upheld in a foreign country while maintaining respect to their hosts.
“I’m proud of how well the entire team has come together over the past year to truly move the installation forward,” said Williams, who took charge of the base last November. “We have become CNIC’s newest naval installation with an identity reflective of the hard work and pride of every Sailor and civilian in her.”
To truly appreciate Team Redzikowo’s hard work this past year and beyond, it would be best to understand the road traveled to get to where they are today.
Start at the Beginning
The United States and Poland are among 30 nations that are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO countries are committed to the principle of collective defense, where an attack against one is considered an attack against all. The Navy’s Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System is part of a layered defense network designed to defend against ballistic missiles coming from the Middle East.
NSF Redzikowo is the second base to house the Aegis Ashore system, with the first being NSF Deveselu in Romania.
However, before NSF Redzikowo was an operational base, teams with the Army Corps of Engineers, Naval Facilities and Engineering Command and Missile Defense Agency alongside the installation’s current and past leaders spent approximately four years to complete the necessary structures and infrastructure that would make up the core components of the base.
After the base was established in 2016, the area became a construction site – literally speaking. Old buildings, of what was once a German air force base, still existed in the immediate area, but were unsuitable for modern mission requirements. The Navy had to start construction at the, or in the case of an installation, at the foundation.
Just this past September, a historical milestone was achieved as the Army Corps of Engineers officially turned over support facilities to the Navy. In recognition of this momentous occasion, the Navy held a commissioning ceremony rather than the standard ribbon-cutting ceremony, as with most facility turnover events.
“The commissioning ceremony is traditional to Navy warships, but we were authorized the same tradition to be observed for our installation,” the skipper said. “The history-making ceremony was shared with great success with participation from our Sailors, local Polish civic leaders and Polish military leaders.”
Every member of the tight-knit team pitched in to prepare for the ceremony and symbolically bring the installation to life. The security officer and senior enlisted leader took lead of the ceremony logistics. One of the petty officers sang the National Anthem. Others made sure the ceremony site was set up to the standards of a traditional Navy ceremony. Even the acting executive officer used his artistic talent to design the commemorative plaques, commissioning coin and ceremony program.
“It was great to witness,” said the base’s Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Joshua A. Turner. “The commissioning ceremony was a beast and took the effort of everyone on base. It turned out great, and it was a huge boost to morale. It helped us shift our Sailors’ mentality to ‘Hey, we’re a naval installation now.’ It was wonderful to see the pride in the Sailors’ faces and hear the buzz of many excited conversations.”
Navy Shore Support
Although the ballistic missile defense system is primarily a NATO mission, the base itself is like any other base in that it provides essential support services to its tenant commands and those who live and work on the installation.
“We support our Sailors with the same concept as a Navy ship,” Williams said. “We are self-sustaining in that we have here on the base everything to support our Sailors’ day-to-day activities and work.”
The newly constructed multi-purpose facility, for example, contains housing for officers and enlisted personnel, a galley, dining facility, library, theater room and a fitness center. There is also a laundry room, conference rooms and a Navy Exchange shop within the multipurpose facility. In addition, the base has a new main entry control point, where entering visitors and personnel are vetted, as at any Navy installation.
“Since the time of my arrival to NSF Redzikowo, there has been drastic progress not only in the appearance of the installation but with the ownership, duties and responsibilities of our Sailors,” said Command Senior Chief Christi L. Montes, the installation’s most senior enlisted Sailor. “Our Sailors are excited to see the progress our installation has made and having access to new buildings and resources and increased mission responsibility. Our Sailors take ownership of their base and are seeing the effects of their hard work to get to where NSF Redzikowo is today.”
The base may be up and running, but according to installation leaders, it is the Sailors and government civilians who are the heart and soul of NSF Redzikowo. There are approximately 85 Sailors and 38 civilian personnel who call NSF Redzikowo home away from home.
Faces of NSF Redzikowo
Seaman Master-at-Arms Taryn E. Bishop is one of the Sailors who is very proud to be part of Team Redzikowo. Hailing from Lynchburg, Virginia, Bishop arrived at Poland in June of last year directly from boot camp. In the past 17 months since reporting for duty, she has witnessed significant development at the base.
“This is a learning experience for everyone as this is the Navy’s newest installation, and not many people can say they have been a part of the process of getting a new base up and running,” Bishop said. “The base now is already completely different than it was when I first arrived. There has been a lot of progress in just a year and a half. We have great Sailors here of all different rates, and I think that has played a huge part in the success of the base.”
It is those same shipmates she considers her family while away from her own flesh and blood.
“NSF Redzikowo is a small base, and you are bound to become close with your shipmates,” Bishop explained. “I have made lifelong friends here. Anything I have ever needed help with, my shipmates have not hesitated to help me. I have learned a lot from them. If I ever need someone to talk to, they are there.We have each other’s backs.I work with great people and could not ask for a better team.”
Being a part of the U.S. Armed Forces is not something new to Bishop. A self-proclaimed “military brat,” military service is Bishop’s family legacy. Her mother and father are veteran Marines, both of whom spent their military careers moving from one assignment to another, wherever the Marine Corps needed them, with Bishop and her eight younger sisters in tow.
So, why not join the Marine Corps. For Bishop, she decided to follow in the footsteps of her great-grandfather – a Sailor who served during World War II.
“Unfortunately, he passed away before I joined,” she said. “I do wish he could have been at my graduation to see me as a new Sailor. I know he would be proud.”
Others with Team Redzikowo know what it is like to continue a family tradition. Paul F. Griffin, the installation’s plans, programs and readiness integrator, recently retired from the U.S. Army as a brigadier general after 31 years of service. His father and grandfather were Navy submariners, so upon retirement, he decided to accept a civilian position with the Navy to learn the culture and to continue the tradition of service.
“What I love about the military is there is always a purpose,” Griffin said. “Everyone in the military pulls the wagon in the same direction.”
According to base leadership, Griffin is one of the trusted advisors who does more than his fair share of pulling that wagon. He considers himself a “jack-of-all-trades,” responsible for integration of plans and programs, funding strategies, hiring boards, civilian personnel administrative requirements, and even planning events when necessary. Just as important, Griffin is also helping to build NSF Redzikowo and be a part of its history.
“Seeing the base as a construction site versus completely built is interesting,” he said. “Knowing the CO’s vision and seeing it come to life is a great feeling. Watching the Sailors bust their humps to make it happen is priceless. I am very proud of being a plank owner of NSF Redzikowo.”
For each of the base’s plank owners – a Navy tradition and custom bestowed upon Sailors who are the first to sail a ship on her maiden voyage – pitching in and doing more than what is required of them seems to be a resonating business practice when it comes to NSF Redzikowo.
Bishop, for example, who loves to sing, has already performed the National Anthem at several of the base’s events, including its recent commissioning ceremony. The base’s executive officer is also another example. Turner is also NSF Redzikowo’s public works officer and its first engineer.
“I love this base,” said Turner, who arrived to Poland just this past June. “In a short amount of time, I’ve sacrificed time, blood and dark hairs for this base because I love it, the people stationed here, and the Polish people and their culture.”
Poland: ‘Great Country, Great People’
One of the benefits of being assigned to NSF Redzikowo is the opportunity to explore Central Europe. Poland is known for a history that spans thousands of years, Gothic churches, old towns with cobbled streets, centuries-old architecture, and more than 500 castles.
“When I stepped off the plane, I immediately knew Poland was very special and interesting,” said Griffin, who after one year of serving at the base has recently extended his assignment for another year. “The people are terrific and the culture is deep. There is no comparison to living inside the beltway. Much calmer, lots to do and many friendly people to meet.”
For others of the tight-knit team, living in Poland while serving in the Navy is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Although families are not allowed to accompany Sailors to NSF Redzikowo, the one-year tour goes by fast, thanks in large part to the busy mission requirements and many explorations in country while off duty.
“Poland is a great country with great people,” Bishop added. “Being stationed here is an experience I will never forget. I have made some of the best memories of my life here and because of that, Poland will always have a special place in my heart.”
To learn more about NSF Redzikowo, visit https://www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnreurafcent/installations/nsf_redzikowo.html or follow the base on Facebook @NSFRedzikowo.