In 2014, when I was the commanding general of the 28th Infantry Division, our unit participated in a multinational exercise in France. I remember speaking with leaders from both the French and British Army and they were envious of the National Guard that we had in the United States.
They observed the professionally of our soldiers and saw the value our National Guard brought to the taxpayer with producing a professional military force with limited resources and training days. It was a model both countries aspired to.
From 2016 to 2019, I had the opportunity to serve as U.S. Army Europe deputy commanding general for National Guard affairs. In that role, I had the opportunity to visit more than 40 countries across Europe. One of the most impressive reserve forces I have encountered has been in Poland.
This impression was reinforced by my recent visit to Poland in October 2021 to provide leadership presentations to cadets at various military academies and universities, along with providing leadership training to soldiers assigned to Poland’s reserve force know as the Territorial Defense Force (TDF).
The TDF is led by the commanding general, Maj. Gen. Wiesław Kukula, and deputy commanding general, Brig. Gen. Maciej Klisz. Both have special operations experience. On March 29, 2017, the TDF became operational and had command and control of three brigades.
By the end of 2017, approximately 7,600 soldiers were assigned to the TDF. The number of soldiers serving in the TDF as of November 2021 is 30,700. Like the National Guard in the United States, approximately 15% of the force are full-time military and the others have full time civilian jobs while still maintaining their military responsibilities on a part-time basis.
The Polish TDF personnel constitutes 25% of the overall number of soldiers in the Polish Armed Forces.
The Illinois National Guard has been a partner with Poland as part of the State Partnership Program for more than 25 years. The relationship between the Illinois National Guard and Poland is very strong. The Illinois National Guard even maintains a continuous presence of a small group of Illinois National Guardsmen in Poland.
An example of the close relationship between the Polish Territorial Defense Forces and the Illinois National is exhibited in the TDF motto, which is “Always Ready, Always Here.” It is patterned after the National Guard motto, “Always Ready, Always There.”
The Polish TDF is primarily focused on homeland defense missions. They are very much focused on border security, particularly the border between Belarus and Poland. The TDF has been very involved with COVID-19 pandemic support operations in Poland.
However, the TDF has sent its soldiers outside of the country on occasion. TDF soldiers were at the Boy Scout jamboree in West Virginia when Poland sent a Boy Scout contingent to that event. During the pandemic when Polish truckers were held up in the United Kingdom, Poland sent TDF soldiers to support Polish truckers with basic necessities such as food, water and personal hygiene items.
Like the training requirements of the National Guard in the United States, the TDF personnel must serve at least 36 days per year (one weekend in a month, and the 14-day integrated training – once a year). Just as the National Guard in the United States is a value to taxpayers, the same could be said about the Polish TDF.
They are a huge value since they are a part-time force, so are paid only when they train or support civil authorities.
The Polish TDF is a huge success story. The commanding general, Maj. Gen. Kukula, had the foresight to pattern the TDF after the Illinois National Guard and it is both the soldiers of the TDF and Polish citizens who will reap the benefits.