News: Aviation Brigade Soldiers bid farewell to comrade
Spc. Jennifer D. Atkinson
Aviation Brigade PAO
CAMP TAJI, Iraq " Task Force Baghdad Soldiers gathered to say goodbye to a fallen warrior Dec. 3.
Sgt. Grzegorz "Jak" Jakoniuk, B Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment (Assault Helicopter), died of a gunshot wound Nov. 30.
"We come together in grief, acknowledging our human loss," said Battalion Chaplain (Capt.) Chris Goza at the memorial service. "May God grant us grace to find comfort in pain; in sorrow, hope; and in death, resurrection."
A native of Poland, Jakoniuk enlisted in the U.S. Army Aug. 21, 2001, and became an American citizen in January 2005, before deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 3.
"Jak was truly a special individual," said Capt. Jennifer Reynolds, B Co. commander. With a trademark smile and a laid-back manner, Jakoniuk took most things in stride, including the constant difficulty with his name, she said.
Because his name was so hard to pronounce, when he became a citizen 'the guys immediately told him his new name was "Greg Jackson" because none of us could pronounce his name properly," Reynolds added.
Sometimes Jak could be a bit frustrating, simply because it was hard to argue with his straightforwardness, she continued. When Reynolds told him to replace a pair of worn-out boots, he said, with a typical shrug of his shoulders, "But these are comfortable."
An experienced crew chief, Jak not only managed to beat pilots to the aircraft most days, but took the time to make sure the crews had food for a long mission, Reynolds said.
During tense situations, Jakoniuk had a way of defusing a situation with a smile and a thumbs-up, she said.
More senior crew chiefs would attempt to find things wrong with an aircraft and usually came away from Jakoniuk's aircraft "frustrated because they didn't find anything, but also proud because he took care of it so well," Reynolds noted.
"The guy was a unique person," said Staff Sgt. Mark Bilon, "Jak was always smiling, always wise-crackingâ?¦he was a hard worker when he wanted to be and a clever talker when he didn't."
With plans for college and financial smarts, Jak was headed for success, Bilon said. Jak was mellow, and was never wound up or high-strung.
"We've lost a friend," said Bilon, but "when you think of him, laugh and smile and take it easy."
Spc. James Berkenbush worked with Jakoniuk and was his roommate at Ft. Campbell, Ky.; during OIF 1 in Mosul; and here at Camp Taji.
"I was closer to Jak than I was to either of my two brothers," Berkenbush said.
Jakoniuk had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, he added. When Jak wanted to know more about how something worked, he would go out and buy books on the subject.
"He probably read more books in a year than I have in my entire life," Berkenbush said.
While at Ft. Campbell, Jakoniuk taught himself to play the violin. After taking the violin out of the box, Jak couldn't get it to make any sound so he went out and bought several books on playing and taking care of a violin.
"When he was learning to play it in the room, it was the most God-awful thing I"d ever heard," said Berkenbush, but "I always admired him for his continual motivation to better himself."
Although Jak could come across as abrasive, to Berkenbush he always seemed confident and self-assured. No matter what, Berkenbush could always count on his roommate for a smile, a thumbs-up, and a generosity of spirit.
"Jak, we will all miss you, we will never, ever forget you," said Reynolds. "Rest in peace, my brother."
Jakoniuk is survived by his father, Cezary Jakoniuk of Poland, and his brother Dominik Jakoniuk, of Chicago.