MERRILL, WI, USA U.S. Army SGT, COMPANY A, 2D BATTALION, 127TH INFANTRY, WAUPUN, WI AD DAWAR, IRAQ 08/02/2006
A Wisconsin National Guard soldier killed in Iraq with two weeks to go in his tour of duty is remembered as a fun-loving kind of guy who wanted to become a park ranger and someday fix up what he called his baby, a 1966 Chevrolet pickup.
Jopek was the greatest kid you ever had, always smiling, loved his family, loved his friends, explained Jopek’s mother, Tracy. He loved life and he was excited to be coming home. The Army, they got a hell of a guy. Jopek, a 2004 Merrill High School graduate, was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, where he served as a gunner in convoy security. Jopek’s father, National Guard Staff Sgt. Brian Jopek, served in Iraq earlier.
Ryan Jopek completed one semester at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County in Wausau when he was called up to active duty. He joined the Guard to serve his country.
“I didn’t want him to go, but he was proud to serve his country”, his mother said.
Ryan, the eldest of three children, had almost finished his 18-month tour of duty. That makes it tougher, that he was so close to coming home. Ryan was one of Wisconsin’s very finest and served his nation with bravery, distinction and valor, Maj. Gen. Albert H. Wilkening of the Wisconsin National Guard said. I want the Jopek family to know just how proud Wisconsin is of Ryan, how grateful we are for his service and how saddened all of us are for his tragic loss.
To honor Jopek, the Guard promoted him to sergeant and ordered flags at all Wisconsin armories, air bases and other facilities be flown at half-staff starting Sunday and continuing until after his funeral, the military leader said.
Jopek moved to Merrill from Chanute, Kansas when he was a sophomore in high school.
He’d brighten up the room every time he came in. He was a fun-loving kind of guy, said Janet Wardall, a high school algebra teacher who had Jopek in class as a senior.
Jopek, who got above average grades in class, spoke with a Kansas accent and other students noticed it but he fit in with every group, Wardall said. He had everything going for him, the teacher said. It is a great loss to our entire community. That’s for sure. A wonderful young man.
As a senior, Jopek was a reserve on the Bluejays varsity basketball team, coach Tom Andreska said. He attempted only five shots and made two. He knew his limitations, accepted that he wasn’t going to play much and was just happy to be there and be part of a team, the coach said. Nowadays, the way athletics are, there aren’t many guys like that anymore. He worked hard in practice and cheered on guys during the game. That made him so neat. Teammates called him Kansas because he was a big Jayhawks fan, Andreska said. Jopek would give that smile, that grin that he had. He liked that, the coach said.
Andreska said he visited with Jopek in June and the soldier was excited about enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County this fall and taking advantage of the tuition benefits offered by the military. He would always say, ‘Hi coach. How ya doin’?’ Andreska said. He was extremely polite. Always positive. Always upbeat.
Andreska said Jopek’s Chevy pickup, just a beater, was painted orange in tribute to the Chicago Bears, his favorite NFL team. He always talked about restoring it.