Thursday, May 20, 2010

Army Spc. Stanley J. Sokolowski III

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Stanley J. Sokolowski III, 26, of Ocean, N.J.

Spc. Sokolowski was assigned to the Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas; died May 20, 2010 in Kirkuk, Iraq, in a noncombat-related incident.

Stanley John Sokolowski III, died Thursday, May 20, 2010, while on tour in Iraq as a U.S. soldier. He was a lifelong resident of New Jersey and graduated in 2002 from Ocean Township High School. Stanley's altruism began early in his life where a ceaseless compassion and desire to help others guided him to pursue occupational and volunteer work as a lifeguard, EMT and firefighter. Stanley was not content to just practice his craft, but worked diligently to master it. He qualified and taught as an instructor for lifeguard and CPR training; however his true passion was, to the end, to be a FDNY firefighter. Always putting himself last, Stanley never failed to extend a hand to those in need. His passion for firefighting, enthusiasm to help, and courage brought him to Iraq in 2005 as a firefighter, where he was part of a team responding to fires and medical emergencies assisting both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens. In an effort to improve his chances at fulfilling his firefighter aspiration, he joined the Army in 2007 and was deployed to Iraq last year.

When he was just 16 years old, Stanley J. Sokolowski III was working as a volunteer for a local first aid company. He went on a call for an elderly woman and was saddened to find she had passed away.

"He cut her obituary out of the paper and carried it in his shirt pocket for months," recalled his mother, Christie Sokolowski. "That was the kind of kid he was."

Army Spc. Sokolowski, an Ocean Township resident, died of injuries sustained in a non-combat related incident in Kirkuk, Iraq on Thursday. He was 26.

Today, hours after the news of his death was made public by the Department of Defense, the Army soldier and former volunteer fireman was being remembered as someone who simply wanted to help people in need.

"He was a very quiet kid who was loyal to the firehouse," said Steve Pejakovich, captain of the Atlantic Engine and Truck Company No. 2 in Long Branch, where Sokolowski volunteered. "He was one of the most reliable drivers we had. We’re all saddened and upset by what has happened."

He is at least the 97th service member with ties to New Jersey to die in Iraq since 2003.

Sokolowski graduated Ocean Township High School in 2002. He had volunteered for different fire and first aid squads in Long Branch, West Long Branch and Oakhurst. He also worked as a lifeguard in several area pools and briefly at the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital.

In 2006, he worked in Iraq as a civilian contractor for Wackenhut Services Incorporated, which provides security, emergency response and fire protection for the military.

Christie Sokolowski said her son joined the Army in August, 2007, to better his chances of becoming a full-time firefighter upon completion of his duties. He was assigned to Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. Sokolowski worked in Army intelligence, his mother said. He was scheduled to come back from his current tour in November.

"As a veteran, he thought would give him a better shot of being hired as a firefighter," Sokolowski said. "He always informed us that what he was doing was not dangerous. I have e-mails saying ‘Don’t worry, this is very safe."

"I remember the day he told me signed up for the Army and I couldn’t believe it," Pejakovich added. "But he wanted to be a paid firefighter and from what I heard he was doing good."

Sokolowski loved reading books on Teddy Roosevelt and took up archery as a hobby. Solomon Hicks, an assistant captain at Atlantic Engine and Truck Company No. 2 , described Sokolowski as someone who "loved his music" and also took a certain amount of ribbing for being a vegan.

"He was a good fireman and a good friend," Hicks said.

The Pentagon, Fort Bliss and Fort Dix provided no further information regarding the nature of the incident that led to Sokolowski’s death. His mother also declined to comment on the cause of death, but said there would be an investigation.

On a notebook on her kitchen counter, Christie Sokolowski penned words and phrases written to describe her son, including: "he was a humanitarian and someone who always fought for justice" and "someone you could always count on."

Verbally, she echoed the loss. "He trusted everybody," Sokolowski said. "He took everybody at their word."

Army Spc. Stanley J. Sokolowski III died of a non-combat related incident on 5/20/10.

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