The GROM Factor
Haven’t heard of Poland’s Special Forces? They’re real, they’re serious, and they’re here to save the day.
2:40 PM, MAY 8, 2003 • BY VICTORINO MATUS
IT CAME AS A SURPRISE to many when the U.S. postwar plans for Iraq were finally revealed. Like Gaul, Iraq would be divided into three parts: an American zone, a British zone, and a Polish zone. But what role did Poland play during the war? It turns out a very important one–albeit one that was kept mostly secret.
One of the primary objectives during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the port at Umm Qasr. Without it, delivering adequate humanitarian aid to the rest of Iraq would have been nearly impossible for the coalition. Not long after the start of the war, the port was secured–in large part thanks to GROM, Poland’s elite commandos.
Who even knew Poland had special forces? For a while, not many. The Polish government waited three years before publicly disclosing GROM’s existence. Standing for Grupa Reagowania Operacyjno Mobilnego (Operational Mobile Response Group), the name actually stems from a special-forces commander, Gromoslaw Czempinski, who, during the first Gulf War, led a Polish unit into Western Iraq to rescue a group of CIA operatives. One of the other men on that secret mission was Slawomir Petelicki–the father of GROM.
„GROM was my idea,” General Petelicki says in his husky, accented voice. „I presented it to the new democratic government” in 1991 „and because I liked to give honor to the commander of my unit, I named it after Gromoslaw.” (Grom also means thunder in Polish.) Petelicki, now retired from the military, spoke from Warsaw where he is now an independent consultant for, among others, Ernst & Young. It’s quite a change of pace for a man once described in Jane’s Intelligence Review as „his country’s James Bond and Rambo wrapped neatly into one daunting package.” (Petelicki also serves as chairman of the Special Forces Foundation. „I try to help former commandos and discourage them from going into organized crime–where there are many lucrative offers for work.”)