Books to bullets: Poland to enlist 10,000 students into volunteer 'Academic Legion'

Books to bullets: Poland to enlist 10,000 students into volunteer 'Academic Legion'
Poland’s Ministry of Defense has said it will start a new program to give university students military training as part of a volunteer-based “Academic Legion,” which upon completion will see the students enlisted into the country’s reserve forces.

The project, which begins in November, is a joint venture between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

“We have provided 10,000 places for the training of privates and non-commissioned officers. From November on the universities will start theoretical classes, while during the holidays students will undergo training sessions,” Deputy Minister of Defense Michal Dworczyk announced at a press conference on Monday.

“In my opinion, the Academic Legion corresponds to an important demand of the Polish state, to supplement the ranks of the reserves, which in the domestic and international contexts is very important from the point of view of national defense,” added the deputy minister of Science and Higher Education of Poland, Aleksander Bobko.

The 10,000 students will be given around 30 hours of lectures and theoretical studies at university, followed by a 22-day boot camp. The volunteers will then be sworn into the Polish military reserve. To gain the rank of non-commissioned officer, students will have to put in 60 hours of theoretical and six weeks of practical training.

Dworczyk claimed a survey conducted of university students showed 45 percent would enlist “without needing to be persuaded.” The most eager to enlist were students from eastern and central Poland, according to the MoD’s survey.

Under communist rule, each university in Poland gave its students mandatory week-long military training. But while the Polish People's Republic was an ally of the Soviet Union, the current Polish government, led by the ultra-conservative Law and Justice party, sees Russia as a threat. At the press conference with Bobko, Dworczyk said that Poland and its allies would be watching the upcoming Russian Zapad-2017 drills in Belarus very carefully.

“This is a very closely monitored project, not only by all Polish security services, but also by the services of Western countries as well,” he said.

“There are many doubts and concerns about the current activities of the Russian Federation, that it may not withdraw all its forces after the exercises. We also do not have 100 percent certainty about what kind of forces will be used, because there are reasons to assume that there are more forces than the Russians and Belarusians will officially declare.”

However, Moscow has countered that its military exercises pose no threat to Poland or any other country, and instead insecurity in the region is being undermined by the increasing NATO buildup in Poland and the Baltic states in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

“If NATO countries are really concerned about the unstable situation in the region, then firstly what they need to do is to curtail their own military activities, which are groundless and contradict the real security needs,” Russian envoy to NATO Aleksandr Grushko said in July.