CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Marines from 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion gathered at Camp Fallujah’s Chapel of Hope June 16 to honor on of their fallen in a memorial service.
Sgt. Mark T. Smykowski, assigned to B Company, was killed in action June 6. He was 23 years old.
“Sgt. Ski sacrificed his life to provide a nation, whose people have lived under tyranny and now the uncertainty of an insurgent rebellion, a hope of a better life,” said Lt. Col. James M. Bright, 2nd Reconnaissance Bn.’s commander. "A life, hopefully, not too distant than our own. A right to life, a right to liberty and a right to happiness.”
Smykowski was on his second tour to Iraq, operating in Zaidon, the same region he patrolled in 2004 before and after he took part in Operation Al Fajr, the battle for Fallujah.
“What should not be forgotten is that Sgt. Ski’s loss was not in vain,” Bright said. “Sgt. Ski was doing and performing a mission that he’d known and believed that would eventually bring peace to a people of this area. Many people in this area knew his name and many recognized him from his past tour.”
Bright told the gathered Marines that on the same day Marines were honoring Smykowski, he was being memorialized in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.
“They expect no less than 3,000 people to gather in his name,” Bright explained. “This alone is the truest testament to Mark, his wonderful family and the cause for which he died.”
First Lt. Craig Q. Reese, Smykowski’s platoon commander, described him as professional, intelligent, compassionate and driven. A man to be admired and respected.
“Mark was one of those few Marines who cared about the impact he had on the people of Iraq,” said Reese, a 30-year-old from Thermopolis, Wyo. “I cannot count the number of times when I was with him when an Iraqi would recognize him from his last deployment and smile. I saw first hand the influence he had on this culture. He was truly attempting to make a difference.”
Smykowski attended Mentor High School in Cleveland. There, he participated in ice hockey and rugby. After graduating in June 2000, he entered the Marine Corps the following August and attended recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Upon graduation, he attended the School of Infantry with a follow-on assignment to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. He deployed with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and took part in Operation Infinite Anvil in Jordan and reinforced the American Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan.
After returning to the United States, he was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion’s Reconnaissance Training Platoon and completed Basic Reconnaissance School at Fort Story, Va., in March 2003. He graduated Survival, Escape, Resist and Evasion School and Cold Weather Survival School in Brunswick, Maine. He also graduated the Basic Airborne Course and was the Honor Graduate at Marine Combatant Dive School in Panama City, Fla., in August 2003.
Cpl. Christopher J. Piekos, a 22-year-old from Worcester, Mass., said Smykowski was called “Tango-Golf” by his friends, for Tall and Gangly.
“Regardless of the turmoil experienced in this country, Mark still cared about this place and the reason we’re here, up until the day he died,” Piekos said. “He truly loved this job and the guys he worked with.”
Piekos said Smykowski was caring and compassionate toward his friends and instantly struck a chord with nearly every person he met.
“The saying goes, ‘Every man dies, but not every man really lives,’” he added. “I can honestly say Ski lived a life people could only dream about. He lived life to the fullest.”
Smykowski’s awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, Combat Action Ribbon, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with bronze star.
“Mark was known to be a compassionate man to those who deserved compassion and a fierce fighter to those who stood in the way of freedom,” Bright said. “Sgt. Ski gave his life for freedom’s cause and now he hands that fight on to us. He expects no less from us than to continue and be successful. And we will do so.”