DEBELJAK, Croatia – Military members and civilians from the U.S. and Croatia honored the late Master Sgt. Ivica Jerak, a member of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, with a small memorial service held in his native town of Debeljak, Croatia, Sept. 22, 2012.
Jerak gave his life in defense of freedom in Husaybah, Iraq, Aug. 25, 2005, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his position while deployed in support in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The highly decorated Special Forces soldier earned many awards during his military service including four Bronze Stars Medals, one with Valor device, two Purple Heart Medals and three Meritorious Service Medals. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and a Purple Heart.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Repass, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, Croatian Brig. Gen. Ivan Juric, the exercise deputy commander of Jackal Stone 2012, delegates and friends visited Milka Jerak, the mother of the late soldier, at her home to pay their respects.
After visiting with the family, the group drove a short distance to a nearby elementary school where Jerak had attended as a child.
The school and nearby playground received a complete renovation in 2009, funded by the U.S. European Command and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District in honor of the fallen soldier.
Kevin Fish, of SOCEUR Medical Plans and Operations, served with Jerak in the 10th Special Forces Group and attended the memorial service. He said Jerak was one of the best people he ever knew and described him as an honest, straight forward and all around good guy.
“It holds a little place of him here in Croatia,” said Fish about Jerak’s memorial at the elementary school. “It bonds him forever with this community where he grew up.”
The memorial service convened in front of a plaque dedicating the school and playground renovations to Jerak. Repass and Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Sekelsky, the senior enlisted leader for SOCEUR, laid a wreath of flowers under the plaque where Juric lit a single, white candle.
“It’s an honor to stand here today and honor Ivica Jerak,” said Sekelsky during his remarks. “He excelled as a soldier in the most elite special operations forces the United States has. He was honest, to the point, determined and always selfless serving.”
The attendees at today’s service are participants in JS-12, a U.S. European Command, Joint Chiefs of Staff – directed exercise conducted in various locations throughout Croatia to enhance special operations capabilities. The multi-national exercise involves approximately 1,700 military personnel from the U.S., Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.