A VIP cast of dignitaries, military medal recipients and uniformed soldiers gathered for this ceremony which had a twofold purpose. It was held for the grand opening of a stunning new Armed Forces Reserve center and to honor the man whose name is on the building, Sgt. James Witkowski.
Sgt. Witkowski, or Ski as he was fondly known, was part of the 729th Transportation Company. The unit was on patrol in Iraq on October 26, 2005 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When insurgent forces attacked the convoy, Sgt. Witkowski fired back, and when a hand grenade was lobbed at the turret, he absorbed the full shock of the blast and saved the lives of his fellow soldiers. One of the people on that convoy, Staff Sgt. Christine Pomgratz said, "He saved all of us. He is my hero and always will be."
Planning for the $83 million facility that now bears his name was actually started in 2004. It is a state of the art reserve center which the Army says demonstrates the military's commitment to their reserve forces and families. Brigadier General Jon Lee said, "Our soldiers from the community bring a lot of capabilities and what we're doing is giving them the equipment, the center, the facility to do that job."
The 63rd Regional Support Command Sgt. James Witkowski Armed Forces Reserve Center will provide a variety of services for 23 Army reserve units and five California National Guard units as part of the Defense Department's base closure and realignment efforts.
The family of Sgt. Witkowski was at the ribbon cutting and memorialization ceremony. "It would have shocked me had he not done what he did. That wouldn't have been my son," said his mother, Barbara Witkowski. In regards to the naming of the building, she said, "Wow. It hit me like a ton of bricks. This is our building. This is a Witkowski building. This is our son's building."
Sgt. Witkowski received the Silver Star in November 2005 for his heroic action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The building may bear just one name, but honors every soldier.