Monday, August 30, 2010

Army Staff Sgt. Casey J. Grochowiak

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Casey J. Grochowiak, 34, of Lompoc, Calif.

SSgt. Grochowiak was assigned to 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.; died Aug. 30, 2010 in Malajat, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

An Afghanistan war casualty — an Army Ranger who is listed by the military as being from Lompoc but apparently lacks any links to the city — is being remembered by San Diego area friends and family as a hero.

Staff Sgt. Casey Grochowiak, 34, was born and raised in San Diego, his brother Erik Grochowiak said Wednesday. A notice from Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center identifies his hometown as Lompoc. Military officials are looking into the conflicting information.

As family members and friends grieve the loss, his body arrived Wednesday afternoon at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Family and friends knew Casey Grochowiak as a warmhearted father, active athlete and harmless prankster. He graduated from Horizon Christian Fellowship, in San Diego, where played football. He also enjoyed surfing, baseball and snowboarding. “There were definitely some pranks pulled over the years, but he was also very honorable,” said Joel Savell, a childhood friend. “When push came to shove, he would always do the right thing. He had a lot of love for a lot of people.”

After high school, Grochowiak did construction work and tried community college. “He didn’t always apply himself until he found the military,” his brother said.

Grochowiak was inspired to enlist by the large military presence in San Diego and by the fact that his father, Edward, was a retired Navy officer. Once enlisted, he was determined to become an Army Ranger. A knee injury derailed his first attempt at Ranger school, his brother said, but he came back 18 months later to try again. That time, he succeeded. “He was a great soldier. The Army was something that really turned my brother around,” said Erik Grochowiak of San Diego.

Casey was a beach kid who loved surfing, his brother said. He attended private schools and came from a privileged background. “He chose the Army because he wanted to make a difference,” his brother said.

"My family and I can only survive this by believing that he helped save others' lives," his brother said. "We are not a family that will sit and cry and say he is better off in heaven.

"We want to stand up and say what he stood for and how proud of him we are and celebrate his life. Him dying in Afghanistan, which is where the September 11 terror attacks started, and now burying him on that date would mean a lot to us."

After enlisting in the Army, Casey was assigned to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. He became a Ranger and later was transferred to bases near Athens, Ga., and then Fort Walton Beach, Fla. There, he taught Special Forces members about poisonous snakes.

But the soldier who previously deployed to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once wanted to return to combat, Erik Grochowiak said. Rather than have a needed surgery on his back, Casey Grochowiak wanted to deploy to look after younger soldiers, his brother added.

Grochowiak transferred to Fort Carson, Colo., a few months ago, and was embedded with an infantry division.

Longtime friend Dan Hernandez of Carlsbad said he has been best friends with Casey Grochowiak since they were 14 years old and is godfather to his daughter. “I want everyone to know Casey like I did — the fun, caring, protector, outgoing guy who would take the shirt off his own back for you,” Hernandez said. “He always motivated me when I was down and made me feel like the sky is the limit when I was around him.” The death of his friend is difficult to digest, Hernandez said.

“He loved doing what he did. He was made to be in the Army,” said Hernandez, who last saw his friend in June. “He was that guy who always protected the underdog when he was growing up. That’s just Casey. ... Knowing him was definitely an honor.”

Funeral services are pending, but are expected to take place in the San Diego area, his brother said.

“Casey touched the lives of so many people; he was not only a war hero but a hero to a lot of people all over San Diego County,” Hernandez added.

Army Staff Sgt. Casey J. Grochowiak was killed in action on 8/30/10.

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