Polish-American Heritage Month: Sgt. Monika Cywinska | Item
DRAWSKO POMORSKIE TRAINING ZONE, Poland – For many people, joining a branch of the US military can present challenges. However, working through the process can lead to exponential personal growth and unique opportunities.
For U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Monika Cywinska, AH-64 helicopter repairer with 1st Attack Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, one of these unique opportunities presented itself.
Cywinska, who was born and spent part of her childhood in Bydgoszcz, Poland, recently returned to Poland on a rotation with 1CAB.
When she was 4, her family moved to Illinois where she spent most of her life before moving to Deer Park, Texas. At 18, she decided to enlist in the American army.
“What led me to join the military and enlist was that I always wanted to move and become financially independent,” Cywinska said. “I always wanted to go to college without a lot of student loans. So at 18, that was my biggest motivation to enlist. I just wanted to do something good with myself.
Cywinska was then deployed to Afghanistan with 1CAB. After returning from deployment, the next scheduled trip for 1CAB was a rotation to Europe in support of Atlantic Resolve, which is providing air, land and sea forces ready and in combat position. Cywinska’s time in Europe involved working with other units and nations in multinational training exercises.
Cywinska started her rotation in Germany and then moved to Poland. Before that, she said she had not considered the possibility of returning to Poland as part of her military career.
“I guess I was a little upset when I first heard about it because I’ve never rotated, but it’s been a good experience,” said Cywinska. “Coming to Poland was kind of a surprise. So it made me happy to be able to visit my family now as it is quite close to Powidz.
Being in Poland gave Cywinska the opportunity to visit a family she hadn’t seen for a long time. She hadn’t seen her grandmother since she enlisted. Some of his family, including his mother and brother, have returned to Poland, making it difficult for them to visit before his current rotation.
“My mother ended up going back to Poland while I was deployed in Afghanistan,” Cywinska said. “I was able to visit her on leave while she was still in Texas, but now I really won’t be able to do that because tickets are expensive and I just don’t plan to come here to each permission. But it was nice to have the opportunity to come visit them more often than I would with two weeks off.
Her husband, Staff Sgt. Brandon Avila, an AH-64 Weapons / Electrical / Avionics Systems Repairer, also with 1CAB, was deployed with her to Afghanistan and is now with her in Europe. Being in Poland was the first opportunity he had to meet his wife’s family.
“While going to her childhood home, she showed me chalk paintings that are still there to this day that she and her friends made,” Avila said. “So there are still paintings from her childhood on the wall where she lives. It was a pretty tear [moment], you know, pretty amazing, but it hits home.
Cywinska recounted a weekend when she took Avila and her brother to Gdańsk.
“It was really fun,” Cywinska said. “We had an aparthotel, then the next day we went to town. I have to take my brother and my husband on a pirate ship. Then we went to the main town. We went out to eat. I took my brother and my husband on the Ferris wheel, and I took my brother on the merry-go-round.
Overall, family visits have become a regular activity on weekends.
“Usually my husband and I will get a two-day pass,” Cywinska said. “So we’ll go up there.” We will usually stay in a hotel, but we see each other all day. Either we’ll go out for dinner or my grandmother will cook dinner. We just find different things to do every weekend.
Avila said he simply appreciates the opportunity to experience Poland with Cywinska.
“So having my wife deployed here with me, being born in Poland, has been a very pleasant experience,” said Avila. “Since she is fluent in Polish, it’s much easier to just travel. It’s kind of like home, you know, especially for her. It brings me more diversity here. It’s welcoming, and I can pretty much make conversation through my wife talking to the Polish people.
He also explained how being in Poland benefited Cywinska.
“So to her, she seems relaxed, that she could take advantage of the time that we have on weekends and so on to go and visit her family,” Avila said. “Yes, we are on rotation here and we come from a deployment context in Afghanistan, which was really difficult. So it’s a bit like a summer vacation, even though we work daily to maintain our planes and maintain our battalion standards. “
Cywinska enlisted in the military to improve herself, become independent and go to college without incurring student debt. She said she went to college now and felt like she had matured a lot since she was 18.
“I think the US military has helped me be better,” Cywinska said. “It has helped me to work as a team with other people, with whom I have always struggled before. Doing a big test with a lot of people is something that I learned, that I’m really proud of. I’ve learned to manage my money and make it work in my favor and have that stability to get everything I need for myself. It made me mature a lot. So I feel like a whole different person than I was, say, four and a half years ago.
Cywinska joined the army with certain goals in mind. Although she has achieved and made progress toward some of these goals, she has found more personal benefits and areas for growth than she originally anticipated, including the once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to visiting his family who would have been very difficult to spend time with otherwise.
Learn more about Operation Atlantic Resolve: https://www.europeafrica.army.mil/AtlanticResolve/