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Roman Polko

Brigadier General Roman Polko

From 1992 Roman Polko took part in the UNPROFOR mission in former Yugoslavia. In 1999 he led the 18th Air Born Cavalierly Battalion from Bielska-Biała which made up the Nato Contingent K-FOR in Kosovo.

Later he was made Commander in Chief of the whole Polish unit in Kosovo. In 2000, he became Head of the GROM Special Services whom he led in Iraq and Afghanistan until he left in 2003. General Polko is currently the Deputy Head of National Security.

Is it a difficult transition to go from being an ordinary soldier, to being their leader?

It’s not difficult. I started my military career in military college, and after two months of basic training they made me squad leader. I changed my mentality and I took responsibility for my friends. I gave them orders and I was even harsher on them than previous corporals who were commanding us! After some period of time I became a private, I became a squad member, and some other friend became squad leader. So, I went through this process from the very beginning of my military career. The most important thing, not only in military, but also in civilian life is to work as a team and to understand your leader. For everyone involved to have their minds and hearts on the mission - then you can be successful.

During your time in Kosovo, you were in charge of nearly a thousand soldiers. What is the secret of leading such an enormous group of individuals?

You have more responsibility during such missions. You have to organize your job properly. You have to design an area of responsibility for each company, for each squad. You have to let them conduct missions and to be successful in their own way. It’s very difficult. When you are a platoon leader, a company commander usually you have your own way of thinking. It’s very difficult for managers to let younger leaders do things in their own way. But I tried, I let them do it. When you believe in your younger leaders, when you trust them, they trust you and you can be successful.

As Head of the GROM Special Services, what was the most difficult thing that you had to deal with?

The big challenge for me was to make the transition – from people who were conducting difficult missions, to let them work on standard operation procedures - to give them a staff job. Because no one wants to do it! Everyone wants to conduct very dangerous missions. It happened also during the Iraqi mission. Once when I was responsible for national command and I was in Iraq at the beginning of the war, I noticed that my leader, instead of doing his staff job, preferred to go out with his weapon to conduct the mission with other soldiers instead of planning. I said to him “Your responsibility is to stay in touch with our command in Poland, to stay in touch with the Special Forces command responsible for all operations for missions not go to the field!” I know because I had the same experience – it’s better for me, I love it - to be with soldiers, to be in action inside, to conduct this missions. Only in a few exceptions when you are conducting a really difficult and challenging mission, when it is very dangerous – during that time you have to be between soldiers to show them that you are with them. To give them more power to be successful. He (his leader) understood it. So, the biggest challenge for GROM soldiers is this transition from a guy who is on the field who is fighting with terrorists, with the enemy, to become this person who is planning everything, who has to deal with all these papers and who has to do a staff job.

So what about your current ‘staff job’ as Deputy Head of National Security?

After a few years of fighting with high-level bureaucracy, I realized that it is impossible to change an organization’s culture when you have no power to do it. When I was a GROM commander I was trying to convince my superiors that they should let us conduct missions in a different way, they should try to understand us better. But it was impossible to do it. I was saying one thing, they would say “Ok, ok” but things didn’t change. So I left GROM and I am here and thanks to it my friend, Piotr Patalong, who is commanding GROM right now has a much easier job. So, every time he talks to me, I understand him very well.

What was the most challenging thing that you’ve experienced during the course of your military career?

The biggest challenge for me was in March 2003. The Minister of National Defense made me responsible for the decision whether to go to this mission or not. I was ordered to go to Iraq to see how risky our mission is and to decide about our participation in this war. When we are conducting training together with the American Navy Seals, with our friends and later even more, our brothers, it was impossible for me to say no to them. I realized that this mission is really risky. The first mission was? - we had to capture them. Despite the world class level of training of my soldiers, they could be blown up by some terrorists. They wouldn’t be able to do anything – they would die. And they were writing their testaments because they realized that it could be the last day of their life. But no one said no in this mission so we did it. But I was responsible for making this decision. I wanted to be between them during this mission. Instead I had to sit in the headquarters, I had to observe them. So I was not able to do anything, I was just praying to God to let them survive, to come back after this mission. So, that was the biggest challenge for me.
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