Story by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stephanie McCurry, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
Left: 1st Lt. Jermey Dugena, of Gilberts; Staff Sgt. Driscoll Augustine, of Staunton; 2nd Lt. Andrew Payne, of Edwardsville; Sgt. David Sworobowicz, of Springfield; 2nd Lt. Veronica Kool, of Springfield; Sgt. Ernesto Flores, of Chicago; Cpt. Cole Namken, of Decatur and Staff Sgt. Steven Martin, of Urbana; take a moment for a photo in downtown Warsaw before they begin their 137 mile walk. The eight Illinois National Guardsmen participated in the annual Polish pilgrimage walking from Warsaw to Czestochowa in 10 days
SPRINGFIELD – Imagine walking from Peoria to Aurora. In August, eight Illinois National Guard members did just that, except in a foreign country, Poland. Six Soldiers and two Airmen walked 137 miles, beginning in Warsaw and ending in Czestochowa, in 10 days for the annual Polish pilgrimage. The Illinois guardsmen walked with a group of approximately 300 people that included Polish, German and Slovakian Soldiers.
Every year thousands of Catholics from around the world go to Poland to participate in the ceremonial walk to Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, the site of the revered Black Madonna icon. Their journey began with an early morning mass at the field cathedral of the Polish Army. Every day the group attended mass regardless of their various faiths and beliefs. During the 12-hour walk each day, they were treated with prayers, songs and sermons in German, Polish, Italian and English broadcasted through large speakers carried by participants. Local civilians provided pilgrimage participants with food, refreshments and encouragement along the route. Every night the Illinois guardsmen slept in tents provided by the Polish Armed Forces.
“I was told numerous times by Polish Soldiers that they got a kick out of the fact that the German Soldiers and American Soldiers were communicating to each other through their Polish translators,” said Sgt. David Sworobowicz, of Springfield, Illinois Army National Guard. Local farmers stood along the route and handed out their fruit and vegetables to everyone walking in the pilgrimage. The cities also worked together to offer soups and bread for lunch everyday. The other breaks they had throughout the day were at numerous churches.
“The civilians’ generosity along the way is unmatched,” said 2nd Lt. Veronica Kool, of Springfield, Illinois Army National Guard.
“All along the route, the Polish stood waiting outside their homes offering whatever food they had to give.”
“The religious experience gained from this exercise is above and beyond rewarding,” said Sworobowicz. “I can only hope to do it again sometime.”
The trip ended at Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa with the military pilgrimage walking the last half mile or so through thousands of supportive spectators that waved, shook their hands, gave hugs and took pictures of the group.
“It is not everyday that you get to travel overseas for a friendly noncombative operation,” said 1st Lt. Jeremy Dugena, of Gilberts, Illinois Army National Guard. “From the arrival in Poland, the Polish Army were incredible hosts making sure we had everything we needed.”
Illinois guardsmen participated in the pilgrimage to commemorate the 1655 Polish victory over Sweden and to build a stronger relationship with the Polish. The National Guard sponsored State Partnership Program (SPP) between the Illinois National Guard and Republic of Poland was established in 1993. The SPP links National Guard states and territories with their partner countries to foster mutual interests and establishing long-term relationships across all levels of society. Through the SPP, Illinois Army and Air National Guard service members have participated in annual, joint training exchanges with military forces of the Republic of Poland.
“Their professionalism and maturity are what I desire in every group of guardsmen who come to Poland,” said Maj. James Fisher, Bilateral Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy Warsaw. “They promoted the State Partnership Program with flying colors and are model diplomats of our country.”