Stoffa: Another life lost in combat


Photo courtesy: Gabriel Stoffa

Staff Sgt. Joseph Hamski

Gabriel Stoffa

It never hurts as much until it’s someone you know.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Hamski was killed Thursday in Afghanistan when his unit was attacked with an explosive device.

Though all those serving in the armed forces know the risks they undertake, that knowledge makes it no less tragic when one is killed.

There have been 1,595 U.S. military fatalities during Operation Enduring Freedom from 2001 to 2011, according to Though this is not near the number of lives lost in previous “wars”, this is the one I lost a friend in, and that finally makes this war all the more real.

Joe was my friend as we were growing up in Ottumwa. We went to the same high school, had the same group of friends and even worked at the same movie theater for a time.

He never quite settled into the average life, as most people would term it. Joe had too much going on in his head to work a nine-to-five job, so he joined the Air Force after briefly attending Iowa State.

Joe would come back to visit often, always with a smile and to have drinks with his buddies. Each time it was certain to be a grand and raucous celebration. He cared about his friends in a way that made you know he was someone you wanted protecting you and others on foreign or domestic soil. Joe cared about his friends as if they were his brothers and sisters.

When a soldier dies, family and friends mourn, and this situation will be no different from that. But, for me and many of Joe’s other friends, it is the first time tragedy like this has really hit home.

We all joked with Joe about the dangerous actions he undertook while enlisted; he had a certain gallows humor that was respectable rather than depressing. He would tell us with a smile about deadly situations as we took shots of Bacardi 151 with him. His stories had a humbling characteristic to them, both for Joe and for the imminent danger he would find himself in, and we all appreciated it.

Now his story is over. He was married not long ago to Air Force Staff Sgt. Maria Christina Hamski. Joe’s love life had been another source of entertaining stories through the years, and now it is over. He can’t tell us any more of his stories, and we can’t pass the night away reminiscing and bullshitting.

It just isn’t right. He had so much more he could have done. Joe knew the risks of his profession. We all understood that something could happen to him, but we never wanted to believe it; no one ever wants to believe it could happen to someone close. It just hurts too much.

To everyone who has never had to suffer the loss of a friend to tragedy, I hope you never do. To everyone who has, I feel for you.

And for Joe’s friends and family, I wish we had all had more time with him. I wish we had gotten to say goodbye to Joe in old age as he complained about any of the far-reaching topics he would so gladly bitch about over drinks with friends. He would have made a great crotchety old man; hell, he basically was one, just without the old age.

But we can’t. Another brave life was lost. Another close friend fell before his time. Twenty-eight is far too young an age to die.

Here’s to you Joe, you were the best of us. It’s a worse world without you, but you will never be forgotten for what you gave.