Hard-scrabble upbringing breeds philosophy of achievement in JBLM's NCOY

By Sgt. Mark A. Cloutier/5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment on July 20, 2012

Sometimes the race is to the swift - sometimes, to those who just keep running. Once in awhile, however, there happens along that one, who, after years of running, is still swift - and still winning. How do you gain an edge?

"Above all else, winning is a state of mind," Sgt. Dariusz Krzywonos said. "To be successful, I know I must maintain a positive attitude and steady determination. But what has served me best, is that I have learned to embrace adversity and enjoy the process."

After outshining seven other competitors to win top honors at the I Corps NCO of the Year Competition, Krzywonos, a field artillery surveyor/meteorological crewmember in 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, moved on to U.S. Army Forces Command and won at the major command level at Fort Bragg, N.C., last week.

To remain competitive at this level requires an edge. For Krzywonos, to embrace adversity and to enjoy the process has been his edge since the days of his youth - his private pathway to opportunity.


Krzywonos was born in 1969 in Przeworsk, in the Communist Bloc People's Republic of Poland, the official name of Poland from 1952 to 1989. He lived with his parents and two younger siblings in a government-owned blog, a multi-family housing unit provided by the state-controlled agricultural construction firm his father worked for.

For the people of Poland, this was a period of Soviet occupation, which progressively racked the country with social unrest and economic depression.

"I had a fairly decent childhood," Krzywonos said. "However, just like the blind man who was without sight from birth, I was born into socialism. So, for many years, I didn't know what I didn't know. As I grew into the 80's, things got bad and then worse and I knew I had to find a way to leave."

For those living in the PRP, traveling outside the country was not allowed. There were only a few ways to leave the country legally - join the Red Army and go wherever they went, or become a merchant marine and work on the ocean. A person could, however, visit an adjacent communist country or satellite state with a visa.

"This is where I first learned to embrace the challenge of my adversities," Krzywonos said. "I didn't want to join the army, but I did want to get out - to the West; I wanted to see the world."


At 15, Krzywonos won a class seat at a merchant marine vocational high school in Gdansk, Poland, 15 hours across the country by train. In 1980, Gdansk was the birthplace of the Solidarity Movement - an independent labor union, instrumental to the eventual collapse of the communist government in Poland. The Oxford University Press called it the catalyst that helped transform Soviet-repressed Poland from a communist satellite to the democracy it is today.

"At the time, I was too young to appreciate the significance, or the danger, which surrounded the Solidarity Movement, but I did help out by putting up posters and handing out leaflets," he said.

"But it was certainly exciting; I loved the dynamism of it. High school years were especially difficult for me because everyone I knew tried to discourage me from going, but I had made up my mind; I knew this was my opportunity to get out of Poland," he said. "I was alone all through high school; I did everything by myself and only saw my family twice each year - Christmas and summer vacation."

During the 1980's, Krzywonos' high school years, the economic system in Poland collapsed.

"You would walk into a supermarket, and even if you had money, there were no products to be had," he said. "Just pretty girls in white aprons, guarding empty shelves. Then, just before I graduated high school, the city of Gdansk erupted in violence; people got brutally beaten down. That was my wake up call."


After graduation, Krzywonos and a friend headed out. As a quasi-communist country, Yugoslavia was the only place they were permitted to go. Their plan was to slip to Italy or Greece, where they would seek political asylum.

Almost on arrival in Yugoslavia, the young Polish friends were robbed of all their money. After a few months of digging ditches and working in produce fields, they had saved enough money for passage to Greece.

Once in Greece, the two quickly applied for political asylum in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand - a two-year process. Krzywonos' friend used ancestry connections to gain asylum in Germany and Krzywonos was alone again.

"I learned to enjoy the process," Krzywonos said. "Turning back was not an option I allowed myself to accept. There was simply no other way but forward."

For the next two years, he worked wherever there was opportunity. He worked in advertising for a train for most of the first year; he rode it all day, getting off in each little town just long enough to hang up fliers. In the second year, he made his way to the island of Crete, where he worked at his favorite job of all in olive orchards.

"It was a very exciting time in life for me," Krzywonos said. "I was young and full of zest, optimism and hope."


In September 1989, Krzywonos received political asylum into the U.S. and quickly boarded a flight to Anchorage, Alaska.

"Finally, my persistence was paying off. I had won the fight - a fight that had lasted for two years," he said. Although elated to finally be in America, Krzywonos still needed to provide for himself. For the next two years he worked where he could. At one point he ran into Joe Redington Sr., known the world over as the father of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. For a few months Redington gave Krzywonos a job helping him prepare his dog team for the Iditarod.

"I would hook up the dogs and mush them around to help keep them in shape," he said.

He had made it to America but for Krzywonos, life in his Anchorage neighborhood was getting to be too much of not enough.

"It was lifeless for me there," Krzywonos said. "All I could think about was, ‘Now what?' I had to get out of there."


In 1991, he signed a four-year contract to be a Marine.

As an assault amphibious crewman, Krzywonos advanced to sergeant in only three years. He said he learned much from the Marine Corps that has served him well as a Soldier.

"This is where I learned how to maintain my composure during the boards," he said. "It was very difficult sitting at the Marine Corps boards; it was an extremely aggressive, high energy experience. Everything I said, I had to scream. Everything that was said to me was screamed and often, there was more than one person screaming at a time. It was very uncomfortable, but it was also here that I learned to relax at the board. At some point I realized that I wouldn't be at the board if I weren't being recognized, so I just answered the questions. My palms still get sweaty, though, when I'm sitting at the board, being judged by a number of people, but now I enjoy the process. What I learned in the Marine Corps, helped set the standard for the rest of my life."

Krzywonos went on to serve on a Western Pacific tour with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with which he arrived in the Persian Gulf in December 1992, to guard the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border. At the completion of his enlistment contract, Krzywonos left the Marines to enter college.

It was at the City College of Santa Barbara, California, where he met his wife, Emi Yamada, a Japanese native in America to study English. They were married in 1997.


In 1999, Krzywonos simultaneously transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara, and began a 10-year-career with a financial firm as a syndicate equities trader. He earned a bachelor of arts in business economics from UCSB in 2003.

In 2010, he signed a contract with the Army, bringing his edge for handling adversity with him.

"He's an amazingly humble human being," Krzywonos' unit sponsor, Sgt. 1st Class Cornell Braud, said. "He is a blessing to anyone who has a chance to know him. He keeps himself well grounded at all times and is a pleasure to work with. It's not all that often that you meet someone who always thinks of the other person - that's Sgt. Krzywonos."

At 43, Krzywonos already has a lifetime of experience, learning from adversity and giving him a unique balance and mature perspective.

"I feel very blessed that I had a childhood beginning like the one I had," he said. "I believe I have been blessed with a richer perspective as a result. I have a real deep appreciation for Americans as a people. There is optimism here and acceptance of one another that is very hard to come by in other parts of the world. The older I get the more I appreciate it. I sometimes feel as though I am in love with the people of this country."