Rzeszow, POLAND - Almost 5,000 more American troops have poured into the southeastern towns of Poland on the border with western Ukraine since Russia began amassing hundreds of thousands of soldiers along Ukraine’s borders earlier this year.
The movement doubled the number of NATO troops typically stationed here and is now the highest concentration of American forces to move into Poland since the end of World War II. But the Polish people have greeted the visitors less as liberators and more as a welcome curiosity.
Only small groups of the soldiers could be seen based near Rzeszow in camouflaged tent cities in the last week. Many American troops have been staying in the conference center, usually a venue for concerts or events but now a de facto military base hidden behind metal blockades meant to both hide the soldiers’ activities and keep onlookers out.
But the Americans are making themselves known in other ways, especially as security tightens and the situation along Ukraine’s eastern, northern and southern borders deteriorate. Troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, 435th Air Wing and other divisions are now located across the country on a mission to “deter and assure” according to official sources.
The owner of a gastropub in the center of town reported having to search the entire town for a replenishment of pork ribs after the American soldiers cleaned them out last week. Some local hotels have been completely booked up, while a surprising number of large buses can be seen parked en masse or driving across the region with an American soldier sitting in front with presumably many more in the back.
A new pastime for families this month became going to one of the region’s two airports to get a look at the American machinery and manpower arriving daily in the country.
Security around the U.S. troop deployment to Poland noticeably tightened in the last week as the situation in Ukraine deteriorated, with more fences being installed to block the soldiers’ activities from view and a more aggressive military police presence to scare away onlookers.
Several local people reported hearing and occasionally seeing F-15 jets fly over the city in the last week.
While hosting thousands of foreign troops could seem like a possible threat to some, the American troops appear to be largely welcomed in the southeastern region of Rzeszow. As one of the most staunchly conservative and anti-immigrant regions of Poland, the troops may be seen as saviors in the event Ukrainian refugees attempting to cross into Poland and directly into the Rzeszow region.
“Rzeszow does not want migrants here,” said a local English teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the community. “And some people think the Americans are here to protect the refugees, which they like because it takes the responsibility from them,” the teacher said.