Staff Sgt. Zachary Tomczak was a squad leader in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Staff Sgt. Zachary Tomczak was a stern but passionate leader while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division. (Photo courtesy of the Tomczak family).

Staff Sgt. Zachary Tomczak was on leave between his first and second deployments to Iraq and eager to hunt deer while back in his home state of South Dakota. So, he borrowed his dad’s .30-06 hunting rifle, sighted it in, and then headed into the field for a hunt. 

Later, his father Blaise Tomczak heard his phone ring, and when he picked up, he heard Zachary say, “Dad, I got one.” At a range of a little over 300 yards, Zachary knocked down a deer weighing in on the smaller side. When his father asked how many times he shot it, Zachary said once. 

Zachary returned home with his deer in tow, and the two hung it up to begin processing it. That’s when the truth came out, and father and son shared a few laughs. 

“So we’re skinning this deer and just kind of bullshitting and having a good time doing it. I run across one bullet hole, and I thought this was the one, but it didn’t look like it would even be a lethal shot,” Blaise said. “So I’m skinning more, and there’s another bullet hole. I think he ended up shooting it like three or four times at well over 300 yards away.”

Buck fever can get the best of us, even if it’s not a buck. But it’s one of Blaise’s favorite memories of his son.

Remembering the 82nd Airborne’s all-American paratrooper, Zachary Tomczak
Tomczak was promoted to a squad leader position by the time he was 24 years old. (Photo courtesy of the Tomczak family)

On his fourth deployment to Iraq, Zachary was walking in front of his convoy during a patrol in Baghdad, Iraq on Sept. 25, 2007, when insurgents sprung an ambush. He was killed by small arms fire during the ambush. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. The Tomczak family was told that Zachary was an exceptional leader.

“He decided that he was going to be the one doing that, and that’s when he ended up getting shot. It just kind of shows what type of a person he was,” Blaise said. “He was willing to be a leader, and he definitely led by example. That’s why they all looked up to him. I am extremely proud of him and everything he accomplished.”

In just 24 years, Zachary had gone from a football player and wrestler during his youth to a staff sergeant leading an infantry squad in the most famous airborne unit in the world. Blaise said his son was both strong and intelligent, quickly proving himself in anything he set his mind to. 

Zachary Tomczak on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2007.
The Tomczak family believes this is the last photo of Zachary Tomczak alive. It was taken during a patrol in Baghdad, Iraq in 2007. (Photo courtesy of the Tomczak family)

After finishing Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) at Fort Benning (Present-day Fort Moore) in 2002, he found his way into airborne school, though he didn’t join with those plans in mind. Blaise said he was excited to jump out of an airplane until he realized what jump days are actually like in the military. 

“He found out that you have to wait in line for hours and hours sometimes,” Blaise said. “I don’t understand why it would take so long, but he said that took all the excitement out of it.”

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Born on Sept. 11, 1983, in Moose Lake, Minnesota, Zachary moved with his family to Huron, South Dakota in 1985. Blaise said his son loved to fish and hunt growing up and had a lot of fun playing war and getting into paintball fights with his friends. He became quite the gearhead in his early 20s after developing a passion for racing 4-wheelers. 

While visiting Zachary before one of his deployments, Blaise saw just how wild his son could be at the helm of a 4-wheeler. Zachary had cracked the bracing for the seat of his “souped-up Yamaha four-wheeler,” and the only way he could ride it was by standing up. 

Zachary Tomczak during airborne operations.
Tomczak didn’t join the Army to be a paratrooper, but the paratrooper life attracted him to airborne school and the rest is history. (Photo courtesy of the Tomczak family)

“He took that thing out, and I remember him ripping down this tar road, and he was spinning cookies with that thing,” Blaise said. “It was impressive, what he was doing with that thing, and I was like, ‘Holy moly.’”

At some point before one of his deployments, Zachary told his wife if anything happened to him he wanted his 4-wheeler to go to his younger brother. After Zachary was killed in action, the family found a way to get the 4-wheeler transported to Huron, where they put it to good use for many more years. 

One of Zachary’s greatest accomplishments was graduating from Ranger School in 2007. Blaise and some other family members attended and were in awe of the graduation demonstration and the rigorous training he had persevered through. Though Zachary was a stern leader and inspired his soldiers, he also had a strong sense of humor. 

But what stood out to Blaise was how eager Zachary was to get back overseas with his squad, which had deployed shortly before Zachary’s Ranger School graduation. 

“He couldn’t wait to get there to be with those guys,” Blaise said. “I think that there was a loyalty to the bunch that he was with that he he did not want to be away from them. And that kind of showed what kind of a person he was.” 

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