NEWS | Feb. 25, 2022

Staff Sgt. Sokolowski Jumps From SRU Into the Cryptologic World

By Jyremy Reid Army

"Russian cryptologic linguist" doesn’t sound like your typical profession. But it's one that Staff Sgt. John Sokolowski has dived headfirst into, thanks in part to some help he's gotten from the Walter Reed Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in Bethesda, Maryland.

What is a cryptologic linguist? They’re responsible for identifying foreign communications using signals intelligence equipment. This role is paramount because the nation’s defense depends heavily on information that comes from foreign languages, and it’s something Sokolowski has long been interested in.

“I was actually an all-source analyst first,” Sokolowski recalled. “I was in [class] D5 at the time and I wanted to learn Russian. Thankfully, Russian was the only language they were accepting from D5s. So I hit the jackpot.”

After his deployment, Sokolowski went to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California to begin studying the Russian language.

For Sokolowski, learning Russian presented a challenge. “I was learning it as a 31-year-old,” he said. “They say the older you are … the less perceptive [your brain] is to new ideas. It was difficult, but if you do anything for 10 hours a day for a year, you will gain some sense of proficiency.”

For a year, Sokolowski attended 7 hours of class daily and would do 3 hours of homework in the evenings. He began his studies in September 2018, graduated in October 2019 and continued at an Air Force base in Texas for additional coursework.

“That was basically the training for the signals intelligence portion,” he mentioned. “I was MOS [Military Occupational Specialties] qualified at the beginning of December 2019, and then I reported to 173rd [Airborne Brigade] in January 2020. I was there for 11 months before I had sustained my injury.”

On Thanksgiving 2020, Sokolowski got into a serious accident while riding his motorcycle on the highway. A vehicle in the other lane slammed their brakes to avoid hitting another car ahead. Unable to see Sokolowski, the driver inadvertently swerved the car into his motorcycle as they both rounded a bend.

The collision left Sokolowski with a shattered femur and some nerve damage in his right leg. The procedures afterward involved taking out 25% of his patella, as well as a 12-hour femur reconstruction surgery. Afterward, he received admission into Walter Reed to do physical therapy with the amputee clinic.

“That’s just an insane reality check,” he said. “I was doing physical therapy with a bunch of guys who had lost limbs — multiple limbs, even. I’m just grateful that I got to keep my leg. And even though I’m not a hundred percent, I’m a lot better than what I could have been.”

While at the SRU, Sokolowski spent over 6 months searching for Russian refresher programs because he’d missed two consecutive years. After finding a suitable program, he spent two months in a rigorous one-on-one setting with an instructor. Despite not testing for over two years, Sokolowski achieved a passing grade on his Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) on Dec. 22, 2021.

“It was definitely a struggle,” he recounted. “But I achieved my goal of completing everything before the end of 2021. I felt really supported by everyone at the SRU.”

Recently, Sokolowski made the January promotion list from sergeant to staff sergeant. He wants to finish his master’s degree in international relations with a concentration in Russian regional affairs this year. He also applied to the Russian program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He plans to strengthen his fluency for the dual Juris Doctor and Russian program in the fall of 2024.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Visit our website at https://arcp.army.mil