I wanted to write about this particular warrior for two reasons, 1) for the amazing accomplishments he has achieved in his life, and 2) I met him and worked with his team on a deployment in 2004 in which he made a huge impression on me.
Ivica Jerak, whose nickname in his unit was “Pizza,” was born in Debeljak, Croatia (at the time it was the Republic of Yugoslavia) on October 12th, 1962. In former Yugoslavia, conscription was in practice, and all men at the age of seventeen would register for service and be inducted in the military at the age of nineteen. Ivica was no different. He served in the Yugoslav military before emmigrating to the United States in his early twenties, and in January of 1988 he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a medic.
After basic training at Fort Knox, he was assigned to the 690th Medical Company out of Fort Benning, Georgia. Two years later, he was deployed with the 690th to the Persian Gulf War. After coming back from the war, Ivica was serving as a platoon sergeant in his unit before attending the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course. Following SFAS and the successful completion of the 18D Special Forces Medic course, he was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, where he served with the 1st and 3rd Battalions.
A few years later, Ivica volunteered and successfully completed Delta selection and the Operator Training Course. He was assigned to the unit in the late 1990s. One of his first deployments with Delta was to Bosnia on a mission to capture a PIFWC (Persons Indicted for War Crimes). Bosnia, like Croatia, was once part of Yugoslavia, and Ivica, being a fluent speaker in Serbo-Croatian, was utilized in a human intelligence capacity gathering information from the indigenous populations.
Ivica Jerak went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attacks, and it was in 2004 in Mosul, Iraq that I met the man. I found out quickly that he was originally from Croatia, and I was excited to try and speak with a fellow Slav (I was born in nearby Bulgaria) in our native tongues. But me being the cherry Ranger on my first deployment, and him the secret squirrel Delta operator who for all I know could have been a Sergeant Major, I decided to not push my bounds and let him continue playing his Xbox that he frequently enjoyed (specifically, Halo).
We all lived and worked out of the same small house in FOB Freedom (the name has since changed) and we interacted on a daily basis. I found out that Ivica was seriously wounded in his right thigh sometime before the deployment, and he had a serious 7.62 scar to show for it. Like all men who operate at that level in SOF, he made an impression on young Rangers like me. But I was also intrigued by the fact that we were both born and raised in Eastern Europe and emigrated to the United States, while subsequently choosing to serve in the military.
A year later, on August 26th, 2005, I was on a deployment to Afghanistan when I found out that Ivica, along with two other Delta operators and a fellow 3/75 Ranger, were killed in action outside of Al Qaim, Iraq, when their Pandur vehicle hit an antitank mine. Delta operators Ivica Jerak, Trevor Diesing (who I also had met previously), Obediah Kolath (who died two days later of his wounds), and Ranger Corporal Timothy Shea lost their lives during combat operations against Al-Qaeda.
Ivica was a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He spent a total of 42 months in combat zones, and was awarded three purple hearts (one of which was posthumous). He was 42 years old.