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Soldiers answer tough questions during elementary school visit in Poland

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Story by MSG Nathan Hoskins on 04/06/2018
POZNA, Poland "Do you like Tupac!?" exclaimed a young student who was barely able to confine himself to his small wooden folding chair.

Giggles turned into boisterous laugher, spreading across the small auditorium as about 40 fellow sixth graders from J. Kusociski Primary School No. 71 in Pozna, Poland, joined in.

The youngster with slightly disheveled hair thanks to an extended playground break asked his question with an ear-to-ear grin, but his question was serious. Besides, his shirt read "200% hardcore."

Nine Soldiers were seated alongside each other in matching wooden folding chairs facing the small juvenile crowd. And all nine Soldiers laughed in dismay. This question took them by surprise.

This was the first time any U.S. Soldiers had visited the students since the Mission Command Element moved its headquarters from Germany to Pozna in May 2017, and they intended to take full advantage of it.

The MCE, led by the 1st Infantry Division since March, is based Pozna where it serves as the division-level headquarters between U.S. Army Europe in Wiesbaden, Germany, and two regionally aligned forces brigades spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe, to include Poland.

The meeting, which is just the start of an enduring outreach program, was initiated by Maj. Christian Goza, the MCE chaplain and 1st Inf. Div. deputy chaplain. He coordinated with the school with the help of a linguist who once attended there when she was young.

"It was a very, very small part, but it was a part of building community relationships between Pozna and the U.S. military," said the chaplain from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Though Goza believes this initial meeting was a small beginning, he also believes it could lead to much more.

"If we (inspire) one person in that class one person you never know, by the time they reach 30, they may be making huge decisions for the country of Poland," said Goza.

Back in the auditorium, the decisions being made were a bit less compelling which Polish soup is best? And questions only intensified from there What's your day like? When do you wake up? What do you like to do for fun? Do you use weapons? Can I serve in the U.S. Army? What books to you read? What's your favorite drink? It's soda, by the way.

Luckily the teacher leading the event for the school, Joanna Mazurczak, an English teacher, was able to somehow quell if only for moments at a time the children's palpable energy, which was buzzing between them as if they were playing tag with electricity.

Mazurczak was delighted to moderate the Q&A session. She was more delighted that the Soldiers took time to come visit with her students.

"Our students learn English, and they're very curious about everything that is connected with the language," she said. "(These engagements) show them that learning English is not only with a book during lesson, but they can learn by talking to (Soldiers). This is mainly the idea."

Mazurczak said her school hosts children who are not as fortunate or oftentimes lack motivation. Events like this help reverse that trend and turn these experiences to something real.

"Actually, this area of Pozna, is the part of Pozna where the kids (lack) motivation, so we try to do many different things that show them that learning English is good for them," Mazurczak said. "It can give them an extra advantage. They can do something with it; they can talk to people; they can talk to foreigners."

One foreigner, a Soldier who was helping motivate the students, who took quite a bit of the rapid-fire questions, was Spc. Wildane Milhomme, a religious affairs specialist with the 53rd Movement Control Battalion based out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Milhomme didn't know what she was getting into before arriving to the school, but once she was in, she was all in.

"At first, I was kind of nervous in that we didn't know what to expect, but as soon as we actually hit the ground, the children seemed very friendly, very welcoming," said Milhomme. "What stood out to me was to see how very interested they were about being a U.S. Army Soldier, and they wanted to know the process of how to become a Soldier."

Originally from Cape Coral, Florida, Milhomme looked at home in front of the exuberant students, and she was warmed that one student asked if she was able to stay in touch with her family back home. Then she was impressed when they asked Goza a very pointed question: "What inspired you to join the Army?"

With all the "what's your favorite" questions, this one stood out, and it stopped Goza in his tracks, but only for a moment.

Goza explained that it takes a person with a lot of love and pride in their country to serve in the military. He chose his words carefully because every one of them meant something to him. He could see the students absorbing every word.

Goza saw that pride as he watched the Soldiers interact with the children.

"They got to tell their story and be proud of being a Soldier serving their country in a foreign land in a peaceful setting," said Goza. "They're not being shot at, so they don't have to worry about having to carry a weapon."

The peaceful setting was not lost on Milhomme. She said on an assignment like this, to a modern European city, it's easy for Soldiers to sometimes relegate themselves to the amenities of malls and shopping centers. However, volunteering to engage with the local community is so much more rewarding and purposeful for the Soldiers and the students.

"We felt like it was fulfilling. We felt like we were doing something special, in a way, by just being there and talking to them," said Milhomme. "I think it's the best way for us to represent our country and our job in a positive way."

But what about Tupac? That young, hyperactive student wanted answers. Remember, his shirt read "200% hardcore." That's 100 percent more hardcore than 100 percent hardcore. That's math, by the way.

Maybe he got his answer but couldn't hear it over the din of laughter. Maybe the Soldiers felt hesitant to endorse the gangster-rap icon. Maybe this kid will remember this moment for the rest of his life. Besides, Goza, now 56 years old, still remembers moments from his time in grade school.

"In the future, when those kids get to be older, they may remember," said Goza. "I can still remember doing things in elementary school that affect me today. Those kids are old enough to remember 20 years from now when the Americans came and talked about Tupac. I don't even know who he is."

It's more likely the kids will remember the laughs and smile shared both easily translatable in English and in Polish.


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