I did not want to be indifferent [Interview with Bart]

Jun 25, 2020 | Eaglewatch in Iraq

Bartosz Rutkowski is the founder and the president of the Eagle Watch Foundation. He is also a retired officer of the Polish Army, where he served for 22 years.

His biography includes many interesting memories. Parachute jumping, diving, even running away from the police. One event changed his life and the lives of many people he crossed paths with. Bartosz Rutkowski is an unconventional person due to many reasons. At the same time, he is very modest and avoids being in the spotlight. It took me a while to convince him to talk about himself and share some anecdotes from his life.

I did not want to be indifferent [Interview with Bart]

Dawid Czyż: You are the founder of the Eagle Watch Foundation. Many people who support us know you either personally, or from the interviews in the media. Please share a little about yourself with those who have only recently come across the foundation.

Bartosz Rutkowski: My name is Bartosz Rutkowski, I will soon turn 46. For twenty two years, four months and eight days I was a professional soldier – a diver, mainly in the Polish Army. I graduated from the Officer School in Wroclaw. Apart from that, I’ve got a degree in political science from the University of Gdańsk. Currently, I am a retiree as far as the army is concerned, and I run a charity Eagle Watch Foundation of which I am the president and founder. Additionally, I am the chairman of the Divers Qualification Commission.

Why an army? Where the idea of tying your life to uniform came from?

The answer is quite simple. My first memory from childhood, when I was around four years old, is shooting from my grandfather’s hunting gun. He took me to the forest, leaned his gun against the ground and allowed me to pull the trigger, targeting tree crowns. This is probably my first childhood memory, so as a four-year-old child I shot for the first time from the hunting gun. One grandfather was a member of the Home Army, the other served in the National Armed Forces. My grandfather from my father’s side used to tell me stories from the time he was a partisan as bedtime stories. I can also mention that my other grandfather and his partisan friend would sometimes teach during parties me how to crawl. Later my mother would take out splinters from my belly. To finish with a pretty heavy anecdote, when I was around seven or eight years old, my second grandfather bought me a machine gun made in East Germany, which made a horrible noise when pulling a trigger. He would put me on the armchair in front of the TV during a war movie, and if a German or a Russian appeared in that movie, he would say, “Shoot!” So I would pull the trigger making a terrible noise, and grandfather would calmly nod his head and say, “Good”.

So everything started relatively early. Your choice was in a way a consequence of all events that took place in your childhood and teenage years.

There was little chance for me to become someone else than a soldier. What was preventing me was my rather poor health, but since I turned twelve I would shave my head and go to school wearing a uniform, which by the way was prohibited. Once I had to run away from militiamen – as they were called at the time – who would chase me because of that. They wanted to explain to me with the use of long, white bars, that it was not allowed to dress like that. I would go to school dressed in a uniform, an officer’s belt, and bovver boots. That was in the sixth grade when I was twelve. Later on, it all developed naturally because I got immersed in military history, which I’ve been fascinated with to this day. I was sixteen when I started diving, seventeen when I joined the Gdanski Aeroclub, eighteen when I got my jumper’s badge and three levels in the aeroclub. I also started climbing with my friends, and just before I turned nineteen I joined the officer candidate school. All that seemed to be a natural development, especially that it was already after 1989. I wouldn’t have considered becoming a professional soldier before that date.

Let’s start with parachute jumping then. I assume there is another interesting story behind it?

When developing my interest in military history, the first topic I focused on was the history of the Polish Navy. The second topic was aviation, then I got very deep into the armored army, and the last love which stayed with me till the end was the airborne army. I was so into it that as a teenager I had pictures of General Sosabowski, Market Garden operation plan, and many other things on the walls of my room. When I announced to my parents that I was going to join the officer training school, they were crushed. They told me to pick one country in the so-called West, namely Western Europe, which I had never been to and offered to take me there before joining the army to see how normal life and the open world looked like. I chose the Netherlands, and I went to visit the graves of the Polish parachuters in Osterbeek. I visited the battlefield of the Battle of Arnhem, near Oosterbeek. To me, it was simply some kind of a pilgrimage, especially that we went there at the same time when the veterans of the airborne army meet there every year to commemorate the battle’s anniversary. So I was lucky to meet, among others, the veterans of the 1 British parachute division who fought there. I met people who were a living and breathing history. That trip took place several weeks before I joined the officer training school. For me, parachuting was never a sport. The only reason I joined the Gdanski Aeroclub and got the parachute jumper’s badge was that I wanted to become a paratrooper. It was one of the milestones on the way I had to walk. Parachute jumping as such was never giving me much pleasure.

What about diving? What was behind that idea?

That resulted from the fact that I was a rather withdrawn and introverted child. I had a very close group of friends and one best friend. I would spend most of my time reading books and playing strategic board games. My extended family included a cousin who was a diver and an uncle who was a diving instructor. Every year they would organize a month-long diving camp. I joined them when I was sixteen. It was a bull’s eye. I started my adventure with diving which has lasted to this day and I think it’s a really beautiful sport. As a typical introvert, what I like the most about it is peace and quiet. And that at some moments we are completely alone with ourselves in a way that is hardly possible on the ground. It is the feeling when you are ninety meters deep, when you ask for the headlight to be switched off, you are at this depth in total darkness, and the only sound you can hear is your breath. There is nothing else. Sometimes I miss this feeling, it is practically the only thing that I’ve been missing since I left the military service. It has happened around two times that when driving through the Kwiatkowski Estakada in Gdynia I looked at the naval port and thought it would be great to go the sea and dive with the boys again. I simply liked it and I value these people to this day. I have many friends among them and I stay in touch with them because they are really great guys.

After those 22 years spent wearing a uniform, the time for a change came. But it was not caused by your will to leave the army, but by one event that changed everything.

The decision to choose my current life path came after the Islamic State terrorists crucified a twelve-year-old boy. As a father of two boys, I simply disagreed with that. I disagreed to be indifferent and to accept in 21st century such information without an eye blink as something that doesn’t concern me. My older son was the same age as that boy, and if something like this ever happened to him, I wouldn’t want the world to stay indifferent. And so I set behind the desk and thought about it and took the decision. It took as much as turning to the right and exposing the Treasury to financial loss by taking an A4 sheet of paper from the work printer – I still owe the army one A4 piece of paper. On that piece of paper, I started to write down all the necessary things – according to my knowledge I had at the time – to organize a trip and start acting. I wanted to go there and see the situation on the ground with my own eyes because I didn’t trust the media coverage. Now, after four years of running the foundation, nine visits to Iraq, as well as to Jordan and Egypt, I can say I trust the media coverage even less. After coming back, my intention was not to set up a foundation. I wanted to start working as a volunteer for any existing one. Then I asked myself how I imagined that help. The refugees on the ground told me that the aid they needed and expected was precisely the one they were not receiving. So I decided to start a foundation myself and that the most important thing for me would be to cooperate with those people. At the time, I thought that my hitherto life was very scattered. There was the army, my love for history, political science studies. It all looked very incoherent as if I was going in three different directions. It turned out that all three became beneficial to my charity work. My interest in political science and geopolitics allows me to understand the region and its people: what they have in common and what divides them, the dynamics not always seen to the naked eyes which have an impact on these people’s behavior and on the way they can be helped. My military background, those twenty two years in a uniform, have made me immune to discomfort, so I see no problem in hitchhiking trucks with a backpack or sleeping on the floor. I’ve slept on the floor many times, I don’t know, in military compounds, on trips, etc. My love for history allows me to be able to listen to these people, to gather knowledge not only about their lives, but about their ethnic background, religion, and culture, to get to know them better. The better you know a person, the easier it is to help them.

Author: Dawid Czyż

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