Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk demonstrated early in life that he was a man of many talents.
From restoring a 1970 Chevy truck to like-new condition to leading a regiment into battle against terrorism, Pionk demonstrated a talent for leadership and determination.
Friday, a flag is raised in his honor at 9 a.m. at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, 305 Harborview Parkway.
Born in Duluth on Oct. 10, 1977, he grew up in Oliver and attended Superior High School where he excelled in auto mechanics and bodywork.
A 1996 graduate, Pionk took his talent to the Army in 1998, launching his military career at Fort Benning, Ga., with infantry and airborne training, He served three years at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska, and was deployed to the Philippines.
In 2001, Pionk was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington to the 24th Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division (Deuce Four). After extensive training with the new Stryker vehicles, the Deuce Four was deployed to Mosul, Iraq in 2004.
For the next year, the Deuce Four saw daily combat and fire fights. About 25 of the regimentâ€™s 700 soldiers were lost to death or injury, but that didnâ€™t stop the Deuce Four from killing or capturing more terrorists in a one-year period than any other regiment.
Pionk was awarded the Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal with Valor for rescuing his severely injured platoon sergeant while under fire. He was subsequently appointed acting platoon sergeant as an E-6.
On his second tour of duty in 2007, Pionk was promoted to sergeant first class, and was assigned to the Recon Platoon, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division out of Vilseck, Germany. They went into Baghdad and cleaned up an area occupied by terrorists. Then they moved to the Diyala Province where Al Qaeda still had a stronghold.
It was during that deployment Sgt. 1st Class Pionk made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
He, along with five soldiers and a young Iraqi interpreter, were killed in action Jan. 9, 2008, in the little town of Sinsil while retreating from a house rigged with explosives by the enemy. Staff Sgt. Jon Dozier, Staff Sgt. Sean Gaul, Sgt. Zack McBride, Sgt. Chris Sanders, Cpl. Todd Davis and Roy, the interpreter, were killed in action when a shopkeeper betrayed them and sent them into a house rigged with heavy explosives.
Pionk was survived by his wife, Melanie, and three children, Dylan, Ashley and Brandon, and his parents Duane and Sandra Pionk.
Soldier with Minn. and Wis. ties dies in Iraq
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A 30-year-old Wisconsin native and “wonderful humanitarian” who recently moved to Minnesota’s Iron Range has died in Iraq.
The father of Sergeant 1st Class Matthew Pionk says he had been in the Army for nine years and began his second tour of duty in Iraq just 5 months ago.
Duane Pionk, who lives in Superior, Wisconsin, says his son was a great soldier who helped those in need.
The Department of Defense hasn’t released details of Pionk’s death.
His father says he was told by military officials that his son died when terrorists remotely detonated a bomb in a building.
The Associated Press has reported that six soldiers were killed Wednesday in a booby-trapped house in Diyala. It was not immediately clear whether this was the same attack that led to Pionk’s death.
Pionk was a native of Oliver, a small town near Superior, and graduated from high school in Superior in 1996. He had recently moved to Eveleth, on Minnesota’s Iron Range.Â He was married and leaves behind three children, ages 8, 6 and 3.
30, of Superior, Wis.; assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Vilseck, Germany.; died Jan. 9 in Sinsil, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated during combat operations. Also killed were Spc. Todd E. Davis, Staff Sgt. Jonathan K. Dozier, Staff Sgt. Sean M. Gaul, Sgt. Zachary W. McBride and Sgt. Christopher A. Sanders.
Soldier with Minnesota and Wisconsin ties dies in Iraq
By Amy Forliti
The Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS â€” Families in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin were grieving the news Friday that a 30-year-old Wisconsin native and â€œwonderful humanitarianâ€ who recently moved to Minnesotaâ€™s Iron Range has died in Iraq.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk had been in the Army for nine years and began his second tour of duty in Iraq just five months ago, said his father, Duane Pionk.
â€œMatthew was a great American soldier,â€ Duane Pionk said Thursday, adding that his son always helped the downtrodden and others in need. â€œHe was just a wonderful humanitarian in that way.
â€œThe people in life that always had problems â€” he was there to help them.â€
On Friday, the Department of Defense still had not released details of Pionkâ€™s death, but his father said he was told by military officials on Wednesday that Matthew Pionk died when terrorists detonated a bomb in a building.
â€œHe was a platoon sergeant. He led a squad of five people into a building to clear a building, and the terrorists, they had planted a bomb in there and they remotely detonated it after he was in there,â€ said Duane Pionk, of Superior, Wis.
The Associated Press has reported that six soldiers were killed Wednesday in a booby-trapped house in Diyala. It was not immediately clear whether this was the same attack that led to Pionkâ€™s death.
Pionk is a native of Oliver, Wis., a small town near Superior, and graduated from high school in Superior in 1996. He had recently moved to Eveleth, on Minnesotaâ€™s Iron Range, Duane Pionk said.
He was married and leaves behind three children, ages 8, 6 and 3.
He earned a Bronze Star during his first tour of duty for helping a fellow soldier who was injured, Duane Pionk said.
â€œWeâ€™re very proud of him,â€ Pionk said. â€œHe was a wonderful father. He was a wonderful son. And he was a wonderful soldier.â€
The Army said Friday Pionk was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division out of Vilseck, Germany.
Pionk is the 69th person with strong Minnesota ties to die in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Heâ€™s the third person with Wisconsin ties to die in Iraq in five days.
Slain Minn. soldier remembered for kindness, bold leadership
The Associated Press
SUPERIOR, Wis. â€” On a bitterly cold Saturday, hundreds of people filled the Cathedral of Christ the King Catholic Church to remember Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk, the Minnesota soldier who was slain Jan. 9 in an explosion in Iraq.
The funeral was closed to reporters, but friends and family members spoke beforehand about Pionk, 30 â€” a native of Oliver who lived on Minnesotaâ€™s Iron Range â€” describing him as at once a kind soul and a bold leader.
He was â€œa soldierâ€™s soldier,â€ said Derek Eckstrom of Coon Rapids, Minn., who served with Pionk in Mosul, Iraq.
â€œJust like anywhere, you have rumors about how good a person is, how well he leads,â€ said Eckstrom, who grew up in Duluth, Minn. He said Pionk was a natural leader who inspired confidence and trust in his fellow soldiers.
â€œYou always heard the best about him,â€ he said. â€œHe did it right, in terms of soldiering.â€
Pionk died in a blast that killed six soldiers during a renewed push against al-Qaida strongholds outside of Baghdad, according to the Defense Department. The soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Vilseck, Germany.
Kurt DeKipe of Tomahawk, who grew up within a few miles of Pionk and went to school with him in Superior, said Pionk â€œwas doing what he liked to do.â€
â€œHe really looked up to the people he was working with, and was a role model for them,â€ DeKipe said.
Pionk is a native of Oliver, a small town near Superior, and graduated from high school in Superior in 1996. He had recently moved to Eveleth, Minn. He was married to Melanie Pionk and leaves behind three children, ages 8, 6 and 3.
Gov. Jim Doyle and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty attended the ceremony, and flags flew at half-staff across Minnesota and Wisconsin on Jan. 19 in honor of Pionk. After the service, his casket was loaded into the back of a hearse behind a protective screen of American flags, which snapped in the frigid wind.
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