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NCO of the year Sgt. Dariuz Krzywonos is a worthy candidate

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - 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 does one gain such an edge?

"Above all else, winning is a state of mind," said Sgt. Dariuz Krzywonos, field artillery surveyor/meteorological crewmember, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment. "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 Non-commissioned Officer of the Year Competition, Krzywonos will move on to the Forces Command NCO Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., in July.

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

Krzywonos, 43, was born in 1969, in the city of Przeworsk, of the Communist Bloc People's Republic of Poland, the official name of Poland from 1952-1989. 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 80s, 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."

After high school graduation, Krzywonos and a friend headed out. Since Yugoslavia was a quasi-communist country, it was the only place they could go. Their plan was to get there and then hop over to Italy or Greece, where they would seek political asylum.

Almost on arrival to Yugoslavia, the two were robbed of all their money. After a few months of digging ditches and working produce fields, they had saved enough money to make it to Greece.

Once in Greece, the two quickly applied for political asylum in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This process would take another two years. Krzywonos' friend found ancestry connections to Germany and was granted asylum there - Krzywonos was alone once again.

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," Krzywonos 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 Joe gave Krzywonos a job working with his dog team in preparation for the upcoming Iditarod race.

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 with the U.S. Marine Corps.

As an assault amphibian crewman, Krzywonos was meritoriously promoted to the rank of 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," Krzywonos said.

Krzywonos would go on to serve on a western pacific tour with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, arriving in the Persian Gulf area in December 1992, after most of the hostilities of Operation Desert Storm had ended. Their assignment was to guard the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. At the completion of his contract, Krzywonos left the Marines to enter college.

In 2003, he would receive a Bachelor of Arts Degree in business economics, from UCSB.

In 2010, he signed a contract with the Army. To his advantage, as well as to those with whom he serves, he brings with him a well-developed edge for handling adversity.

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