An airman signals to the pilot during pre-flight checks March 20 at Lask Air Base, Poland. (Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy/Air Force)
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LOCATION: Almost smack on the middle of Poland, just a short drive southwest of Lodz, that nation’s third-largest city.
MISSION: The base began hosting U.S. troops on a permanent basis in November 2012 when the U.S. Air Force shifted a detachment of one of its Europe-based air wings. Lask is home to about half of the Polish F-16 fleet. The U.S. Air Force has been rotating in F-16s and C-130 cargo planes with several hundred U.S. personnel there. Tactically, the base’s location is critical for the defense of Poland’s eastern border, which has been historically vulnerable to Russian ground troops. Politically, Poland is among NATO’s largest and most influential new members and has lobbied aggressively for ramping up the U.S. footprint within its borders.
LIFESTYLE: U.S. troops stationed at Lask will find plenty of diversion in Lodz, which has become increasingly westernized over the past 20 years yet remains very affordable compared to Western Europe. A large local beer or a shot of vodka will rarely cost more than $2.