Staff Sgt. Adam Klakowicz’s heart was pounding with adrenaline as he stepped off the ramp of a Chinook helicopter a few miles outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. It was August 2008, and he was conducting his first combat mission. He and his fellow Green Berets and Afghan Commandos secured the immediate area before pushing into their target compound.
That was the moment Kalkowicz knew he was living the dream as a Green Beret.
“My first mission into combat, the second I got off that helicopter. I thought, ‘I’m doing it. This is it. I’m in combat, leading a partner force.’ When people say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know what I was getting into,’ but not me,” Klakowicz said. “When I stepped off that helicopter, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I’m doing exactly what I knew I was getting into.”
Flash forward to 2023, now a Sgt. 1st Class, Klakowicz is in the process of retiring from the U.S. Army. He’s served a full career as a Special Forces soldier, including time at a USASOC special mission unit, and always with a skateboard nearby.
With a strong Irish family history of boxing, he had dreams of turning pro as a boxer. Klakowicz joined the Army to make it onto the All Army Boxing Team, now called the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program boxing team, to get a second run at the Olympic Boxing trials. After joining the army, he was stationed in Germany, where he had the unique experience of learning how European boxing works.
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During his time in Germany, he won the 2004 U.S. Forces Europe boxing championship, giving him an automatic bid to try out for the All-Army boxing team, a necessary step for a shot at making the Olympic team. Klakowicz had worked hard to achieve this dream, maxing his PT test scores and spending a lot of time in the gym. The only hang-up: his commander had to sign off on the orders because Klakowicz was one of his best soldiers.
“It’s kind of what dug me out because I was in a slump,” Klakowicz said. “My commander wouldn’t let me go try out. Dude, that was a heartbreaker. It’s one of the not-coolest things to ever happen to me.”
His dreams were smashed. He blew steam off like any young soldier does: drinking. That only lasted about a week because Klakowicz picked his skateboard back up and started skating around Germany.
Though Klakowicz’s passion chance at a professional fighter career was gone, his love of skateboarding kept him motivated. He kept skating and boxing and moved on with the daily Army grind. But, before Christmas leave, a Special Forces recruiter stopped by his unit and wanted to talk to soldiers with 300 PT test scores and expert rifleman badges. Klakowicz was one of three in the company.
Not long after talking with the recruiter, he attended Special Forces Assessment and Selection in 2005. Klakowicz was selected, went through the Special Forces Qualification Course, and then arrived at his new home at the 7th Special Forces Group. He thought he would be doing jungle stuff, but his first deployment was to Afghanistan in 2008. That’s where he got his first taste of what the Green Beret life is all about.
“Our sole mission in life is unconventional warfare. We train, equip, and lead indigenous personnel in combat against a common enemy to influence U.S. interests. That is what we do. That is our sole purpose in life.”
He led a platoon of Afghan Commandos to search for an IED factory during that 2008 deployment as part of a Joint Special Operations Task Force. He’s conducted hundreds of missions since then, becoming one of the few at the tip of the spear. It was a stressful life, and while some guys would resort to drinking, Klakowicz was out skateboarding. It’s always been his way of coping.
Klakowicz grew up skating the streets of Philadelphia in the 90’s. He was more of a street skater, and Philly was a melting pot of skateboarding. Klakowicz skated with several pros as he continued to hone his skateboarding skills growing up.
Though he didn’t realize it then, his skateboarding pursuit was helping him develop skills that would help him later in life as a Green Beret. Reconnaissance is one of those skills. Special Forces utilize it for their missions, while street skaters use it to find their next spot.
Skate spots can be anything from a traffic cone marking a cracked portion of the sidewalk to a three-story staircase with a rail. Skateboarders find ‘creative’ ways to access some spots, often facing hostile security guards or police officers chasing them off. Though not all skills transfer directly to a Green Beret’s work, there are many parallels.
In most special operations assessment and selection courses, candidates undergo physically rigorous tasks most normal people would describe as a punishment — soldiers who can’t handle that are dropped or fail to meet the standard. Similarly, not many who start skateboarding will stick with it because of the pure dedication needed to improve despite falling off a board countless times.
Klakowicz describes a Green Beret spending time on the range to improve their shooting skills with a skateboarder trying to perfect a kickflip. You’ll fail, but with attention to detail, you can learn that new trick just like you can master clearing a room.
Klakowicz found a way to get some skateboarding in, no matter where he deployed. He’s skated a mini-ramp built at a combat outpost in Afghanistan and street spots in Australia between training. One of his all-time funny skateboarding moments happened during a deployment to Botswana in 2017. Klakowicz was skating in a park when he noticed people running away.
“It was a funny experience. You kickflip a bench and then look up, and there’s a baboon in the woods staring at you,” Klakowicz said. “I don’t really know what he’s gonna do because he’s a wild baboon in Botswana, and there’s a dude riding a skateboard. He’s probably just as confused as I was.”
As Klakowicz skateboarded more, he connected with more and more of his fellow soldiers as the Army’s view of skateboarding went from tolerating it to embracing it. Most in the public wouldn’t expect the military and skateboarding worlds to intertwine: one is government work and stresses discipline, while the other is generally associated with anarchy.
But because of how like-minded people can be from both worlds, you won’t find veterans or active-duty soldiers picking fights with civilian skaters often, if at all. You will see them cheering each other on when they land a new trick or skate a difficult obstacle like jumping a 10-foot gap.
When Klakowicz arrived at Ft. Liberty (previously Ft. Bragg), he immediately plugged into the skate scene. Nobody at the skatepark knew what he did in the Army, nor did they ask about it. Whenever Klakowicz and some of his new friends were skateboarding, that’s what they focused on.
These days, Klakowicz is a part of Raid Skateboards’ skateboarding team called “Raid Team 1.” It’s a close balance of civilian, veteran, and active-duty skateboarders. Though many of his newfound friends weren’t in the military or veterans, they clicked right away. Klakowicz said it’s because of how many similarities special operations soldiers have with skateboarders, starting with their attitude.
“It’s that never-quit attitude. Anybody who’s skated for a couple of years has, at a point in time, practiced certain tricks for hours,” Klakowicz said. “Let’s say you get to a level where you’re throwing yourself downstairs. Now, you’re taking punishment.”
The unique aspect of how civilians and active duty soldiers get together is how they teach each other — a trait of every Green Beret. When someone needs help learning a new trick, the more experienced skaters will help them learn. When a skater wants to learn more about joining the military, Klakowicz or some other guys on Raid Team 1 will help them as a mentor.
But only when they ask, and they never ask when they are out skateboarding at street spots or the parks. No one steps out of their lane to try and give advice when it’s not asked for because of the mutual respect they all have for each other, military service or not.
As Klakowicz continues his transition back into the civilian world after a lengthy career as a Green Beret, he has some advice for anyone worried they won’t be able to skateboard after they join.
“I could jump out of a plane, land, pack up my parachute, throw it on a truck, and then go to a flat range and be a badass Green Beret,” Klakowivcz said. “Then I can go home, hug my wife, grab my son, and go down to the skatepark and skate with those guys. If my wife and son are gone. I’m down at Festival Park, drinking a 40 with a homeless dude and skating with Josh, LT, and Snail.”
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