US Air Force Major Ryan Clisset, an American fighter plane pilot, is preparing his doctoral dissertation on the Wielkopolska Air Squadron in collaboration with the AMU Faculty of History. The military pilot, who used to fly the F-16 fighter planes on a daily basis, is now conducting his research in Poznan.
The major received a three-year fellowship from The Olmsted Foundation. Founded in 1959, it awards scholarships to selected officers who spend three years away from their headquarters and study in various countries around the world.
– I wanted to return to Europe, especially Eastern Europe, because I already knew a little bit about the West as I had previously lived in Italy. The Foundation chose Poland and Poznan for me out of the 10 locations I indicated when applying for the scholarship. Poland was fourth on my list. I am happy to be here – says USAF major Ryan Clisset.
During the first year of his stay in the capital of Wielkopolska region he studied Polish language, which he already speaks quite well. – This is probably the most difficult intellectual challenge in my whole life. Sometimes it can be a nightmare, but I hope that at the end of my stay I will feel comfortable speaking in this language – says the American pilot. – Unfortunately, the pandemic has left me with few opportunities to meet students and new people. I hope to return to normalcy next year and participate in classes on campus.
Now, a doctoral student, under the supervision of Professor Bartosz Kruszyński of the AMU Military History Research Unit, examining the history of the Wielkopolska Air Squadron’s participation in the Polish-Bolshevik War because, as an aviator, he is interested in military and aviation history. He has chosen a less-known topic, in contrast to the well-researched history of the 7th Tadeusz Kosciuszko Fighter Squadron, in which American volunteers including Maerian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy fought.
– The purpose of my scholarship is to immerse myself in a foreign culture, country, and language in order to gain a new perspective in life and broaden my worldview. I hope that through my studies I will get to know the people of Wielkopolska and Polish history better, and understand what it means to be a Pole and a Greater Poland citizen. I want to find out what were the beginnings of aviation in Poland, who were the people who created the Squadron, what was their effectiveness in the fight against the Red Army.
Ryan Clisset has only 2 years to conduct his research and write his dissertation, then he must return to his career in the military. Fortunately, an archive recently opened after lockdown, where the doctoral student intends to conduct searches. He will base his work on what he discovers in the documents, as there is not much literature on the Greater Poland Air Squadron.
It is known that the unit distinguished itself with high efficiency in the fight against the General Semyon Budyonny Cavalry Army. It had merits in the battle of Lviv. Its actions effectively slowed down the cavalry movements, which was advancing only 2-3 kilometers a day although it could cover a much longer distance.
– I was very impressed by the story of Major Ajdukiewicz from the 3rd Army, whose life was saved by the effective intelligence and reconnaissance of the airmen. Their reports were very detailed and gave precise information about the location of the enemy forces. For example, a train was saved because Bolshevik troops were spotted on the tracks early enough.
Although the technology was still developing, aviation served the Polish army well. At first, it was not easy to acquire the necessary equipment. In 1919, the insurgents of Wielkopolska captured an airship hall in Winiaria, where they confiscated nearly 300 aircraft. The acquired equipment contributed to the creation of Polish aviation.
– Wielkopolanie enjoy a good reputation, they have the opinion of capable, well-organized professionals. I think that such were pilots, mechanics, scouts from Wielkopolska, who took part in the Polish-Bolshevik war. I would like to show this in my work – emphasizes the researcher.
The knowledge and experiences that Ryan Clisset acquires abroad may contribute to making him a better leader. That is the purpose of his scholarship. Would he like to serve in Poland? – “Perhaps“, he answers. – Then my knowledge of the Polish language would come in handy. What will happen – we will see. All decisions are taken by the army.
The American pilot feels at home here, in Poland. He expected us to be a cold and closed nation but, to his surprise, people he met turned out to be nice, warm and friendly. – Many people ask me where I am from, why I came here, Poles seem to be very interested in my situation. It is nice.
The only drawback seems to be the pandemic: – My life in Poland looks exactly like in the States – all the time at home – he says. – I do everything remotely, it’s good that I attend classes and have a chance to talk, learn the language – it definitely helps.
Polish text by: Ewa Konarzewska -Michalak
translated by: Marcin Witkowski