News: 173rd Airborne Brigade paratrooper keeps paperwork moving in Poland
Story by Master Sgt. Claudia Burcham
DRAWSKO-POMORSKIE, Poland — Spc. Raymond Atkins, of Washington, D.C., said he didn’t know what was ahead when he joined the U.S. Army in 2010. He just knew that his grades in high school weren’t that great and he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his future.
Four years later in a Polish army training area in the forests of northern Poland, Atkins finds himself side-by-side with paratroopers from Poland’s 6th Airborne Brigade and Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. His own unit, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, has been in Poland since April 23. Paratroopers from the three NATO allies have trained together on the ground, in the air and in the water familiarizing themselves with each other’s weapons, parachutes and tactics.
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the brigade are in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve to demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.
Atkins, who graduated Laurel High School in Maryland, has spent part of his time here training with his NATO allies on the firing range, qualifying with the Polish long-range rifle. Atkins said the training has given his unit a great opportunity to learn how other militaries operate.
“I went out with the Polish and Canadians and we built a bunker for some of our communication equipment. We really dug in and covered it all with logs and brush,” said Atkins. “Then they camouflaged the antenna and made it look like a tree — like part of the forest — which was really cool.”
Besides the field training, Atkins, who is a human resource specialist, handles much of the paperwork for his fellow Soldiers, and not just here in Poland.
“I’m at task force level so I take care of and manage the records for the Soldiers for all four countries where the 173rd Airborne is currently training with our NATO allies,” said Atkins, who typically works 12-hour days. “In some cases this includes loading the records into the military systems which can be time consuming.”
When asked why he joined the military, Atkins laughs.
“I thought the military would be the last thing I would ever do. I was a bit of a hippy. I had dreadlocks and everything,” said Atkins, adding that he cut his hair about a week before he signed up.