Due to the initiatives that have been undertaken for many years now, the ranks of the Polish army are gradually growing. The solutions included in the Homeland Defense Act are to additionally encourage people to start military service.
On April 23, 2022, the Polish Armed Forces entered a new reality – on that day, the Homeland Defense Act entered into force, introducing many changes into the functioning of the army. Many of these changes concern the system of drafting and recruiting volunteers. The executed activities are nothing new – they are a consequence of a priority plan that has been implemented by the Ministry of National Defense for many years, aimed at increasing the numerical strength of the armed forces. However, the new solutions introduced by the Homeland Defense Act are to result in an even faster growth of the army ranks, and make the army competitive in comparison to the offers of the civilian job market.
In 2015, the Polish Armed Forces counted around 95,000 professional soldiers. This was the time when first specific plans were made to accelerate the modernization of the army and create new military units, which, in turn, created the need to increase the number of soldiers in the army ranks. It proved to be harder than it seemed. “In the times of compulsory military service, when soldiers were in the barracks non-stop, provincial military staffs and military draft offices didn’t have to undertake any additional activities to provide new recruits. After drafting was suspended in 2008 and the army started to become fully professional, the situation changed drastically. It turned out that the army, without the regular inflow of volunteers, has nothing interesting to offer civilians, which would encourage them to start service and thus increase the number of soldiers in the army,” says Mateusz Kurzejewski, the deputy director of the Operational Centre to the Minister of National Defense. Another challenge was to keep the necessary level of the reserves. The military knew that due to the suspension of conscription, the reserves would quickly start shrinking.
Already in 2009, there was an idea to organize preparatory service trainings. The offer was directed to volunteers who had never served in the army. The training lasted four months and ended in exams, after which the volunteers could start service in the national reserve forces (NSR) created in 2010. Although this solution was to help recruit soldiers for the reserve, and some of them in fact decided to become trained reservists, for the majority of them it actually became a way to join the professional army.
While the NSR did not really work out as planned (the assumed number of around 20,000 soldiers was never reached), the interest in the preparatory service successively grew. The number of applicants for the trainings, organized three times a year, was bigger than what the army was able to train. Some volunteers had to wait for several months to be called in, so in practice, each year only around 5,000 people underwent training.
In the following years, the MoND implemented other initiatives aimed to increase the number of soldiers. In 2017, they created the territorial defense forces (TDF), which today are already 32,000 soldiers strong. One of the main sources of recruitment was also, for example, the Academic Legion military training program, launched in 2017 and addressed to students. The first three editions were organized in two modules, basic and NCO, both of which ended in exams and obtaining, respectively, the rank of a reserve private or NCO. The fourth edition was the first one that offered officer training. In total, in the four editions of the Academic Legion, over 16,000 students of about 70 universities and colleges successfully completed the practical part and became reserve soldiers. Many of them decided to pursue a professional career in the army.
At the same time, the MoND implemented an educational program for high school students called “Certified Military Uniform Classes,” whose aim was to prepare adolescents for military service (today, these classes operate in parallel with military preparation classes). In 2021, over 11,000 students, potential candidates for soldiers, studied in such classes. Those who completed such education could count on some privileges. “These included, among others, additional points when applying to the armed forces, a military university or TDF, but also the possibility to have shorter preparatory service. Many high school graduates have taken advantage of these privileges. 1,100 people, that is over 40% of those who finished military classes last year, were recruited to various forms of service,” enumerates LtCol Waldemar Krzyżanowski, until April 23 the head of the communication department of the Become a Polish Soldier campaign office.
The army has also opened its doors to civilians with appropriate education and qualifications. Today, they can take part in officer courses in all four military schools: Military University of Land Forces in Wrocław, Polish Naval Academy in Gdynia, Military University of Technology in Warszawa and Polish Air Force University in Dęblin, as well as corporal courses organized at NCO schools: Land Forces School in Poznań, Naval School in Ustka, Air Force School in Dęblin and Sonda in Zegrze.
Increase the Turnover
All that was still not enough. The breakthrough in the ministry’s recruitment policy was the campaign inaugurated by Minister Mariusz Błaszczak in 2018, called Become a Polish Soldier. The spots promoting the project appeared in local press and on TV, they were also distributed in public transport and hanged on bus shelters. Banners with the campaign’s logo were put up on fences of most military units in the country, as well as transport buses used by the armed forces.
“We put the main emphasis on changing the philosophy behind the recruitment process: the army cannot idly wait for applications to flow in, it has to take over the initiative and seek candidates. They are not supposed to be there for us. Quite the contrary – we have to be there for them. That’s why we started with changing the profile of the regional military administration bodies, i.e. provincial military staffs and military draft offices. These are the institutions of first contact for candidates, so their role in the recruitment process had to become crucial,” explains Kurzejewski.
As a result, mobile recruitment teams of employees and soldiers from military staffs, draft offices and local units began field work. They appeared at shopping centers, sport centers, in town squares, as well as popular summer and winter resorts during the winter break and the holiday season. Young people had a chance to get first-hand information on military service, local units, available career paths and development perspectives. “Only in the first month of the campaign, we executed 165 recruitment initiatives, which already significantly increased the number of applications submitted for professional service and TDF. Also, the number of applications for preparatory service increased by 66%,” says Kurzejewski.
Satisfactory effects of the campaign encouraged the army to keep fueling the fire. In 2020, on the strength of minister Błaszczak’s decision, an office for the Become a Polish Soldier campaign was created. One of its tasks was to prepare a concept of optimizing the military recruitment process.
The effects came quickly: in September 2020, the military introduced a new recruitment system, adjusted to the needs of young, mobile citizens. One of its elements was the military recruitment website Zostanzolnierzem.pl, which enables the volunteers to apply for army service online. “It significantly facilitated the recruitment itself, but also the contact with the military. For young people, who handle most of their business online, it is important that they can submit their application in several minutes, without getting up from the sofa, using their phone or computer,” admits LtCol Krzyżanowski.
On top of that, Military Recruitment Centers (WCR), created ad hoc by provincial military staffs, started their activity. “This was something entirely new, which – mainly due to the simplified procedure – has become a great encouragement for the candidates. They knew that one or, at most, two days from the moment they have turned up at the WCR – after successfully undergoing basic medical and psychological examinations and an interview – they would receive a draft card for military training, with a specified date and place. Giving up on bureaucracy and complicated procedures really paid off,” says Capt Piotr Prokop, until April 23 the spokesperson for the Provincial Military Staff in Szczecin. Another magnet drawing in volunteers was shortening the four-month preparatory service to 28 days of basic training (specialist training for those who want to continue their service was transferred to military units).
All these changes were positively received by candidates, which was confirmed by the results of a survey carried out by the Military Center of Civic Education in October 2020, aimed to evaluate the functioning of military recruitment centers. The survey was carried out among people who have undergone the recruitment process at WCR. As many as 95% of the respondents were very satisfied or quite satisfied with the WCR recruitment. For 75%, the contact with the center strengthened their will to start military service, and for 87%, the contact produced or confirmed the positive image of the Polish Armed Forces.
The numbers also reflected the good opinions. “The fresh attitude changed the situation. Compared to the analogous periods before introducing the new system, the last quarter of 2020 and the first six months of 2021 showed a 30-, 40-percent increase in the number of people who were recruited for various kinds of military service,” emphasizes LtCol Krzyżanowski.
Ride the Wave
Despite the success of the new recruitment system, the military did not plan to rest on its laurels. “If we want to keep up this high level, we must remain active, encourage volunteers with new offers and opportunities,” says Kurzejewski. Now, it has become possible due to the changes introduced by the Homeland Defense Act. Provincial military staffs and draft offices were replaced by military recruitment centers with a new offer for the volunteers. Apart from the possibility to become a TDF soldier, take part in courses, study at military universities, there is a new offer, including, for example, voluntary basic military service (28 days of basic training and up to 11 months of special training).
“The formula of the service is very flexible. If someone wants to finish this adventure after the first phase, they will simply become a well-trained reservist, whereas the people who decide to continue along this career path, will be able to start professional service as trained specialists. These several months can help some of them to make a conscious decision on becoming a professional soldier,” explains Joanna Lipka, the spokesperson for the WCR in Szczecinek.
Natalia Liszewska from Rypin plans to seize this opportunity. In 2019, she completed her education in a military class, and when she learned about the solutions introduced by the new act, she decided to apply for training. “I think this is the most attractive form of service of all that have been available hitherto. I won’t be thrown into deep water after a month, but I will gain experience and skills for 11 months, after which I will be able to apply for professional service,” says Natalia. She adds it is very important that the salaries of volunteers in service will be at the same level as those of the professionals (4,560 zlotys a month). They will also get opportunities to develop and obtain qualifications at the cost of the army. In the recruitment application, the candidates can put in the qualifications which they want to obtain at the army’s cost.
“In my opinion, no one likes stagnation at work, so it’s good to know already at the beginning of your career path that you are given a chance for development and promotion. The army offers it all. I am planning to take advantage of the opportunity to get a C class driving license, maybe also a diving license. I will seize the opportunities that are offered to me on the way. Although I know that you can resign from this type of service at any given moment, I am determined enough to reach my goal and serve with professionals,” emphasizes Natalia.
There are also incentives in other types of service, for example for people who want to start studies at one of the four military universities. Those who are planning to begin studying this fall, will do their voluntary basic military service in their first year and receive 4,560 zlotys a month. As for the already studying officer cadets (except for those in their last year of studies), the new incentive is getting a professional soldier status already in the second year of studies, along with remuneration depending on the rank and year of studies. The salaries are several times bigger than the ones cadet officers got before the new act entered into force (now it is from 4,560 zlotys for a private in the first year of studies, up to 5,472 zlotys for a sergeant in the last academic year). For many military students the rise in salaries is very good information – the money will help them pursue their passions and interests outside school, some will certainly make some savings.
Corporal Cadet Officer Dawid Hybner, who studies logistics at the Military University of Technology, also has specific plans in this regard. “The reason I started military studies was not money, but it can certainly be one of the factors motivating people to choose this type of career. I don’t come from a wealthy family, so thanks to the pay rise I will surely be able to help them, and also support my mum, who is retired,” he emphasizes. Before the act came into force, he received 1,600 zlotys a month as a corporal. People studying on officer and non-commissioned officer courses will also get higher salaries.
The new act also offers new possibilities to reservists. The division into active and passive reserve is to ensure better use of their potential. Active reservists will be people who have completed training and taken the oath, younger than 55, and in case of people with an NCO or officer rank – younger than 63. They will be obliged to take part in trainings: at least two days of training once in a quarter, and one 14-day training at least once in three years.
One of such people is Jarosław Prędki, up to January 2021 a professional soldier of the 2nd Mechanized Brigade in Złocieniec. He left the army for personal reasons, after 15 years of service. “Being in the active reserve and showing up at the barracks from time to time is not a problem for me. I’m glad I can keep contact with the army in this way, as well as practice my skills during exercises and trainings. It’s good to be ready to act in various situations. I also have to admit I am considering my return to the army,” says JWO (res.) Prędki. People serving in the active reserve can file an application to serve in foreign military contingents, on positions intended for professional soldiers.
The passive reserve is made up of people who have not taken the oath (e.g. after military classification process), and the people who have taken the oath, but are not interested in military service. The army will be able to call them in for obligatory trainings, including: one-day, short (up to 30 days), long (up to 90 days) and rotational (30 days altogether) trainings, organized intermittently in the given calendar year.
In order to strengthen the ranks, the MoND also decided to expand the formula of the Academic Legion program, by making the trainings available not only to students, but also higher education graduates, as well as introducing a scholarship program for students on civilian universities, doing courses that give qualifications useful in the army.
Natalia Liszewska points out that today the army is one of many offers available to young people who are choosing their career path. “Nowadays, simply existing on the job market is not enough. Companies are aware of the fact that they have to encourage and convince a potential candidate to work for them. The army is not an exception in this regard, and it actually performs very well in comparison to the competition. It provides a versatile offer and choice to the candidates,” she adds.
The army encourages and motivates not only those who are about to choose their professional path. Similarly to the civilian market, where it can be a real challenge to keep an employee in company, the army also wants its soldiers to serve for as long as possible. Civilian companies tempt employees with promotions, vouchers, trips, but the army also has a lot to offer – not only financial bonuses and many social benefits (such as a holiday bonus), but also guarantee of employment, right to accommodation and development. The act introduces even more bonuses, including a performance allowance, more opportunities of promotion, or the right to out of turn health care in military health centers.
Will the newly introduced solutions encourage young people to put on a uniform? We will see in practice. One thing is for certain: the society has potential and the army intends to take advantage of it, offering flexible solutions that will allow anyone to find their place in the army. Whether they choose to remain a reservist, become a professional soldier or a TDF soldier, it will still be another step towards creating a larger and stronger army.
Novelties in the Homeland Defense Act
– Simplified recruitment system – candidates can submit applications via the recruitment website Zostanzolnierzem.pl, during the military classification process, or at a chosen military recruitment center.
– Voluntary basic military service – a new type of voluntary service. After completing it, a volunteer can join the professional army ranks, they also have priority in employment in public administration institutions.
– An extended formula of the Academic Legion – military training available to both students and higher education graduates.
– Changes for officer cadets – their first year of studies will be voluntary basic military service. From the second year onwards, they will get a professional soldier status and receive remuneration equal to this of the professionals.
– Division into active and passive reserve – it will enable better use of the reservist potential. An active reservist, after at least three years of service and receiving a positive official opinion, can apply to join professional service.
– Linear promotions – soldiers will have an opportunity to be promoted to a higher rank without changing their post.
– Priority to participate in officer and NCO courses for, respectively, NCOs and privates.
– Right to out of turn health service in military health centers.
– Performance allowance: 1,500 zlotys for soldiers with over 25 years of service, and 2,500 zlotys for soldiers with over 28.5 years of service.
– Guarantee of accommodation for all professional soldiers – they can choose from: a service apartment, a place in a boarding house, or a monthly allowance, ranging from 360 to 900 zlotys, to rent an apartment on their own.
autor zdjęć: Michał Niwicz, Sebastian Brzezina/ 6 BPD, Łukasz Kermel/ 17 BZ