There aren’t many people who can pick up a pack, throw on their old combat boots, and hike the Appalachian Trail with little to no preparation. Christopher “Chris” Siwanowicz was that guy. The only break he took was to attend his brother’s Officer Candidate School graduation, before returning to the trail. 

Siwanowicz was laid to rest on Nov. 14 at the Saint James Cemetery in Naugatuck, Connecticut. The 36-year-old Army Ranger veteran was found deceased at his residence on Nov. 2 after taking his own life. Chris was one of three brothers; the oldest brother, Jason “Jay” Siwanowicz, a U.S. Army veteran himself, also succumbed to suicide in 2013. 

“I think with what happened to Jay, I guess I wouldn’t have expected him to do the same thing,” said the youngest brother, Robert “Rob” Siwanowicz, who currently serves in the National Guard. “But he did. That was surprising.”

The Siwanowicz family has a history of service in the Army, with their father being a Vietnam War veteran. Like his brothers and father, Chris served in the U.S. Army for four years.

Rob described Chris as someone who excelled at everything he did. When Chris told his brother he was hiking the Appalachian Trail on a whim, he didn’t think much of it. The arduous 2,190-mile trail stretches from Georgia to Maine, and people will commonly plan for months before taking on the daunting task of a thru-hike. Rob received a photo of Chris at the trailhead in Georgia right before he set out. 

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“He threw on his old combat boots and an old ALICE pack. It wasn’t anything fancy. He just threw together what he had and just started walking — kind of seemed effortless,“ Rob said. “For him, it was just like, ‘I’m gonna do this,’ and he would just do it, and it would just be an outstanding product every time he worked on something or if he put his mind to something on the outside.”

Christopher was born in Waterbury, CT, on November 21, 1986. His parents, Victor Siwanowicz and Brenda (Reichenbach) Siwanowicz, raised Chris, his eldest brother Jason, and their youngest brother, Rob. Chris graduated from Naugatuck High School in 2004 and, a few years later, joined the U.S. Army in 2007. 

Chris attended basic training and advanced individual training at Ft. Sill, becoming a forward observer in the process. Rob said that he doesn’t think Chris joined with a Ranger or Airborne contract but was naturally attracted to making it into the elite 75th Ranger Regiment when the opportunity was offered. 

Chris attended the Basic Airborne Course, Ranger Indoctrination Program, the Joint Fires Observer Course, and the Vanguard Combative Applications Training. After being assigned to C Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, he deployed to Iraq twice and once to Afghanistan.  

Derrick Ball, who also served in 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, said that when it comes to non-infantry roles, the good ones always stand out, and Chris was one of them. 

“When they stand out, they always kind of leave a special memory for you,” Ball said. “I always liked Chris because he was kind of like me and just really wanted to joke all the time. Everything was funny, even when it got hard.” 

Ball described Chris as the guy who always had a positive attitude despite the late nights and rigorous training schedule and kept the morale of the whole platoon high. 

“There’s always got to be that guy who just kind of keeps everybody going and keeps the mood light, and Chris was definitely that guy,” Ball said. “Just an absolute character. Everybody’s got a story or a joke he told or just the general vibe that he brought to the workplace.”

‘A role model’: Christopher Siwanowicz remembered by family, fellow Army Ranger
Christopher Siwanowicz during his last deployment to Afghanistan in 2010. Photo courtesy of Robert Siwanowicz.

Though the two hadn’t talked much since they went their separate ways, the memory of the quick-to-joke Ranger remains strong. He compared Chris to Robin Williams, who had a cheerful exterior but internal struggles he kept from others.  

After separating from the Army, Chris became a machinist and eventually a certified armorer for both Sig Sauer and Glock. But his latest endeavor was skydiving and apprenticing as lineman, with dreams of becoming a journeyman.  

“He was definitely a role model to look up to, even though when we were younger, he hated that,” Rob said. “I was trying to copy him and do what he was doing when we were younger.”

The three brothers bonded over their experiences in the Army. Especially Chris and Rob, who both deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. Although they worked in different provinces in Afghanistan, the two reunited with their whole family after Chris returned from his deployment and Rob came home for mid-tour leave. 

That memory stands out to Rob. The two shared their combat stories, bonding over shared experiences despite their separation. All three brothers attended the Rockstar Mayhem Festival in Hartford, Connecticut. When heavy metal band Hatebreed took over the stage, the brothers enjoyed the heavy riffs that blasted through the crowd. 

“We went to that and had a blast. And at one point, Chris disappeared,” Rob said. “We had a little bit to drink, and when Hatebreed came on, Chris ran off to the mosh pits, and he kept disappearing.”

For the second week of Rob’s leave, the whole family spent a lot of time together, enjoying their sons being home. But instead of the second week spent at home, everyone went down to Florida where their dad was working. 

“Obviously in pretty good shape, he took his shirt off and was just like, flexing at all these old ladies on the beach. Just being a complete toolbag, but he was just eating it up. He didn’t care he was just having fun,” Rob laughed, recalling a day at the beach. “I think after we came back from [deployment], and with me having to go back, it was just nice to spend that time with them.”

Chris was preceded in death by his brother Jay and both maternal and paternal grandparents. He is survived by his brother Rob, his parents, and his aunts, uncles, cousins, and numerous friends. 

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