The official statement Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen made after the tragic deaths of Polish leaders in Smolensk in April, is one of the more personal of any American official:
“I wish to make special note of the death of Gen. Franciszek Gagor, Chief of Poland’s Armed Forces, my counterpart and my good friend.
I greatly admired Frank as a man fiercely dedicated not only to the defense of his country but also to the lives and livelihoods of his troops and their families. He called his soldiers the “centerpiece” of everything he did, and everything he did, he did for their ultimate benefit.
During my last visit to Poland in June of 2009, Frank proudly detailed for me the important contributions that they had made in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in the realm of training and mentoring. He was as proud of them and their achievements — if not more so — than he was of his efforts to modernize and transform the Polish military.
Indeed, Polish troops are now known throughout the NATO alliance and two theaters of war as experts in military training and education, a reputation that Frank personally spearheaded.
He grew up in the world of crisis response and Allied peacekeeping operations, writing prolifically about the need for flexibility, cultural understanding and multinational cooperation in the pursuit of such endeavors. The first foreign officer to graduate with distinction from the National War College in Washington, DC, he once noted that “it will be vital to conduct multinational operations at the lowest levels.” And today, we are doing just that, all the way down to the battalion level in some places.”
Adm. Mullen had planned on attending the State funerals that month in Poland, as had President Obama and many other American dignitaries, but was unable to because of the volcanic ash that shut down airspace over Europe.
Adm. Mullen reportedly added a one-page hand-written note to the official letter of condolences sent to Gen. Gagor’s family, and he stopped in Poland to pay his respects as soon as he was able. On returning from official business in another part of Europe last month, Admiral Mullen spent about five hours on the ground specifically to pay his respects to General Gagor’s widow, Lucy.
Adm. Mullen and Gen. Gagor
(DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)