Sunday, August 26, 2007

Derek Dobogai remembered

Capt. Derek Dobogai was an elite U.S. Army Ranger, an iron-man competitor and an academic standout, but what everyone recalls most about him is that he never bragged.

"He didn't need a crowd's approval for him to do his thing. He was a young man confident in who he was," said Randy Westphal, former principal and now a teacher at Winnebago Lutheran Academy in Fond du Lac.

The fourth Fond du Lac County soldier to die in the Iraq war, Dobogai, 26, was one of 14 U.S. troops killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed Wednesday in northern Iraq during a nighttime mission. The military said it appeared the aircraft was lost due to mechanical problems.
His family — parents Lisa and David Dobogai and brothers David Jr. and Daniel, of rural Fond du Lac — issued a formal statement Friday through the Army National Guard but has declined at this time to speak with the media. The family's statement appears in its entirety today on Page A10.

Dobogai had been assigned to an infantry brigade combat team out of Schofield Barracks in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the 14th ranked ROTC cadet in the nation upon graduating magna cum laude from Western Illinois University and served his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

He died while serving his second tour of duty — in Iraq — as a member of the U.S. Army's elite Special Forces.

David Nell, principal and teacher at Redeemer Lutheran School, said he remembers Derek Dobogai as a nice kid from his attendance there all through grade school.
"I'm pretty sad right now. I remember him as being very intelligent and popular," Nell said. "He was a runner and one of those guys that could discipline himself and say, 'I'm running this many miles this many days.' He was dedicated to being physically fit and taking care of himself."

Neighbor and World War II veteran Gerry Moore described the three Dobogai brothers as always hanging around together outside doing something — but quiet and respectful in what they did.

"He was a fine young man, and he followed in his father's footsteps — and his father was very proud of him," Moore said. "They are not the kind of family to boast, but they are the kind of people who know who and what they are."

Playing alongside Dobogai on the freshman football team at WLA, Ben Lange recalls his friend as an all-around kind of a guy who was friendly and approached everything — life, sports, school — with a great attitude.

The two graduated from WLA in 1999, with Dobogai ranked fifth in his class.

"I have to say I am so proud of him and pretty much everyone serving our country, sacrificing their lives for us like that," Lange said.

The whole family was involved in go-carting and often spent weekends pursuing their love of the hobby, Westphal recalled.

"Derek was family-oriented," he said. "I remember either he or his brother designing a go-cart in drafting class. It was fun to watch the two of them together."

Track and cross country coach Don Kerr said Dobogai was with him for three years and more than earned his status as No. 1 runner his junior and senior years. The school record set by Dobogai and three others still stands for the 3,200-meter relay: 8:25:31.

"Running cross country is a very courageous sport, and Derek was a mentally tough competitor who wouldn't back down from a challenge," Kerr said. "But more important than anything else — he didn't brag. If anything, his bravado was, 'I'm going to go out and do the best I can and that will speak for itself.'"

The Rev. Richard Zahn, who teaches senior religion at WLA, best remembers Dobogai for living up to his potential.

"We talk a lot about using God-given talents and Derek did that both inside and outside the classroom," Zahn said. "He enjoyed the blessings God gave him, and he was a leader by example."

High-risk students in a program taught by Susi Keith of Longmont, Co., had adopted Dobogai and his unit of soldiers, sending them handmade cards, cookies and gifts on holidays.

"Some of the kids e-mailed back and forth with him, and he was ever so sweet and decent about it, always thanking them. He was an incredible young man who loved life," Keith said.

Her son, U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Carriere, was the buddy scheduled to pick up Dobogai when he was to arrive back in Hawaii on Oct. 13.

"He asked me if I would pick him up and take him back to a hotel," Carriere said Saturday while on pre-deployment military maneuvers in southern California. He is scheduled for deployment to Iraq in December 2007.

Carriere sent an e-mail back to Dobogai. "I told him no way, you are staying with me in my apartment," he said.

The two soldiers first met during the summer of 2004 in infantry training and then U.S. Army Ranger School.

"We hung out as buddies doing stuff on the weekends," Carriere recalled. "Last summer, we got real heavy into spear fishing, diving. We were always doing active stuff, making plans for what we would do after the Army."

Dobogai told Carriere recently that he was finally having fun in Iraq because he was able to go out on missions.

"I was waiting for him to send a smart-mouth response back to me after telling him he could stay with me — but it never came," Carriere said.

Westphal said WLA encourages service in the military, and so far, this has been the school's first loss of an alumnus to the Iraq war.

"God's word tells us we are supposed to serve our country and pray for it," Westphal said. "That is what Derek was doing, serving his country. Even though in his death, his family is devastated, Derek knew his savior, and heaven is his home, and he's arrived just a bit earlier than the rest of the graduating class of 1999."

From the Fond du Lac Reporter

Related Link:
Derek A. Dobogai dies 'of injuries suffered when his helicopter crashed'