LOCKPORT — Christopher Czarnecki walked a fine line in Afghanistan where he said there were days when it felt like playing Russian roulette. Not every day, but there was no guarantees, he said.
But back home, exactly a year and eight days since he retired from his 36-year career, Czarnecki got the opportunity to shake the hand of another veteran who he served with in the thick of things. That individual was state Sen. Rob Ortt who had decided that Czarnecki was his nominee for the New York State Senate’s Veterans Hall of Fame class of 2021.
“We’ve been in combat together,” Czarnecki said. “We’ve been in war together. It tests you like nothing else does. It was no picnic down there.”
Ortt said that there’s a bond that people in combat feel for each other.
“There’s some people, I was only there with them for months,” Ortt said. “But if you saw us interacting today, you’d think we known each other for 20 years. So, what normally takes a relationship 20 years to develop, it happens in months, because you don’t have a choice.”
On the other side of the world, though, many soldiers have families, just like Czarnecki, who boasts of three daughters, two son-in-laws, a two-year old granddaughter and another coming soon.
He said there were days abroad when he didn’t think of them at all, he was so wrapped up in the mission. At the same time, his wife of 29 years said that there were things she’d never tell her husband while he was off in the service, because she wanted him to concentrate on where he was and what he was doing.
“We do what we have to do on our own,” Carrie Czarnecki said.
Czarnecki enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1984 in the U.S. Army Reserves. In 1997 he competed in the New York State Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) of the year and won it for the 42 Infantry Division.
Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Czarnecki was at Ground Zero in New York City after the destruction of the World Trade Center, served with the U.S. Border Patrol on the Arizona-Mexico Border and was Calvary First Sergeant for A Troop 2-101 in Afghanistan from 2008-2009.
Czarnecki, who first met Ortt in Dunkirk before being deployed, said Ortt was a good cadet. He knew how to listen to his officers, he said.
“If you’re smart, you listen to them (Non-Commissioned-Officers like Czarnecki)," Ortt said. “And as you go on you’re set up for success as you go to other units.
“Even in this job. There are days you don’t walk in the room and say you’re a senator, everybody will figure that part out, but you listen to other people and that’s hows you figure out how to lead… I still take that into account, even in this room.”
Each year, the state Senate hosts a program where senators can recognize a local veteran. Czarnecki can add this to his many awards, including the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon and the Silver Medallion of the Order of Saint George.