BIALYSTOK, Poland (AP) — Hundreds of residents turned out in eastern Poland on Tuesday to greet a convoy of U.S. troops that is driving through eastern Europe, a region worried that the conflict in Ukraine threatens its security.
Children climbed into the Stryker armored vehicles and residents offered regional souvenirs as the crowd gathered in the main square of Bialystok under sunny skies, applauding troops from the 3rd Squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment for their gesture of reassurance to a NATO ally. Poland borders Ukraine and Russia, and the conflict in eastern Ukraine has caused anxiety here.
"This really means a lot to us. We see that we are not alone, that there is someone to defend us," Zdzislaw Narel, 60, told The Associated Press. "This is really a historic moment."
"You make us feel like movie stars," a U.S. soldier was heard saying from atop a Stryker.
The "Dragoon Ride" convoy of dozens of armored vehicles started last week from Estonia and passed through Latvia and Lithuania before entering Poland, on a 1,700-kilometer (1,000-mile) return journey to a base in Vilseck, Germany. They took part in the Atlantic Resolve exercise intended to demonstrate NATO's readiness to defend its members.
Poland is also beefing up its own defenses through exercises with NATO troops and through training its own reservists. As part of a mobilization exercise, hundreds of reservists summoned on a few hours' notice were reporting to a military base in Tarnowskie Gory in southern Poland.