An Afghanistan war veteran who woke neighbors and helped them to safety during an apartment complex fire in Halfmoon on Easter Sunday was honored this week by Saratoga County supervisors.
Richard Strojil, 29, of Clifton Park, was given what county officials are calling the first-ever “Above and Beyond” Award.
Strojil, a former Army sergeant and combat veteran, was the first to be awakened by the fire. He then woke a neighbor, Jeannine Wilantewicz. She, he and his then-girlfriend were able to flee the fire. Strojil also broke open a door to alert another neighbor. In the end, flames destroyed eight units in the Squire Park Apartments on April 8, which was Easter morning.
“I wasn’t the only one helping. I happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Strojil told the Board of Supervisors. “I just acted like my military training taught me.”
The cause of the fire was never determined.
He told me he was awakened just before 4 a.m. by a sound he at first thought was rain, until he looked out a window and saw a glow cast by flames in another apartment being reflecting off the trees.
“I’m just very lucky I was the first to wake up and we were able to get everyone out alive. That’s the important thing,” said Strojil, who speaks English with the accent of his native Czech Republic.
Strojil, who has lived in the United States since 1997, is a graduate of Shenendehowa High School who joined the Army National Guard in 2001. Assigned to the 204th Engineering Battalion, he served 15 months in Afghanistan in 2004-05. He was discharged in 2007 and since then has earned a degree from Hudson Valley Community College.
He now works at Greg Beeche Logistics in Waterford.
Strojil lost almost all of his possessions in the fire, including numerous military medals. The county Veterans Affairs office is working to obtain new copies for him, though the process may take a year, county officials said,
“He is a military veteran, and his training came in handy,” said county Veterans Committee Chairman Mary Ann Johnson, R-Day.
Today is Armed Forces Day, and a team of runners from the Saratoga area who are calling themselves the “Saratoga Dirty Dozen” will kick off fundraising for a 200-mile relay run they’ll hold in September to raise money for Operation Adopt a Soldier.
Founded in 2001, Operation Adopt a Soldier sends snack foods and personal care items to American military personnel serving overseas. Most items are donated, but the organization incurs significant mailing costs and has sometimes fallen from the public eye.
“People do forget, but we still have boots on the ground in Afghanistan. There are boots on the ground all over the world,” said Ray O’Conor of Wilton, who will be one of the runners.
O’Conor, president of Saratoga National Bank, is one of three bank employees who will participate in the Ragnar Adirondack Run. Lori Munn, a lender at the bank, recently saw her husband deployed to Afghanistan, and bank employees decided to turn the run into a fundraiser.
The race will take place Sept. 28-29, starting early Friday morning at Saratoga Spa State Park and proceeding in a series of relays around the clock until the team reaches Lake Placid.
“We have folks on our team who are experienced runners and people who are just good athletes who have another sport,” O’Conor said. “It’s going to be a fun event.”
Sponsor pledges have already been taken from Saratoga and Glens Falls national banks, Stewart’s Shops and some prominent local veterans, including U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson and state Sen. Roy McDonald, both Army combat veterans.
Anyone who wants to chip in can contact Saratoga National Bank and talk to Kait Sicke, Munn or O’Conor.