U.S. Army soldier with Cleveland ties being mourned

U.S Army Spc. Jarrett Kotalik, 21, died on July 10 while stationed in North Carolina.

In a world that often glorifies the valor and bravery of soldiers, what is overlooked are the invisible battles they face on a daily basis. The communities of The Woodlands and Cleveland, Texas, lost a shining star recently when U.S. Army Spc. Jarrett N. Kotalik passed unexpectedly after struggling with service-connected mental illness at his Army base in North Carolina.

His parents, John and Dawn, say the family is still trying to get answers from the U.S. Army about the days leading up to his death on July 10. They are aware that Jarrett recently had suffered bitter disappointments as he tried to advance in ranks and change job positions.

“A few months ago as an E-4, he tried to become a non-commissioned officer and was unsuccessful following appearance before a panel. Then, he tried to get into the helicopter pilot program, but was held back from that too. When that failed, he had gathered letters to become a warrant officer. He had one last letter to gather and it appears the same guy who prevented his elevation to NCO refused to provide the letter,” Dawn said. “It appears to have broken his spirit. He didn’t understand. Jarrett always believed that if you worked hard and were enthusiastically motivated to the organization and behind it, then you would be rewarded. Our family is troubled by the apparent lack of clear career-development being made available to these younger soldiers.”

Jarrett had enlisted at the rank of E-3, thanks to earning his Eagle Scout rank in 2018.

“While Jarrett was an E-3, a lot of the older soldiers joined the Army as E-1s. Some of them didn’t like that he started as a higher rank and that he showed such promise,” said Dawn, adding that Jarrett was picked on constantly by his Army peers because of his youthful looks and young age.

As a youth, Jarrett spent years as a Boy Scout dedicated in service to The Woodlands and surrounding communities, often assisting Interfaith, Meals on Wheels, and showing appreciation to local first responders. 

When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in 2017, Jarrett jumped into action with his brothers, Noah, Rafe and Reed, and his sister, Grace, to make meals for families who had lost their homes in floods.  He helped with clean-up projects in neighborhoods, assisted at a Red Cross shelter for those who were displaced, and gathered food and supplies for points of supply distribution in East Montgomery County and Cleveland, Texas.  When families came to request basic necessities from those facilities, Jarrett was there to offer a smile and comfort as he filled their wish lists. 

Soon after Jarrett’s youngest brother, Reed, now 13, was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy in 2014 and expressed a desire to take up the sport of running, Jarrett followed Reed along 5K courses around the United States, including one in Buffalo, New York, that raised funds for the Make Lemonaide Foundation for Cerebral Palsy.  When his youngest brother became an ambassador for that organization, Jarrett worked tirelessly to assist with fundraising efforts and awareness campaigns to support Reed’s newest role.  Even once Jarrett arrived at military training and was issued his gear, he found something to write with and inscribed a logo inside the combat boots to remind him to be a warrior and “Fight CP” (Cerebral Palsy).

Brothers Noah, 22, an FC3 in the U.S. Navy, and Rafe, 18, had been determined to attain the Eagle Scout rank on the same day as him. Jarrett also received a Congressional commendation when he earned the Dr. Bernard Harris Supernova Award.  His youth leadership roles included service as a Den Chief to help younger Scouts in the program.  He volunteered at many community events to share his love for the Scouting program. Jarrett was also a founding member of Venturing Crew 112, chartered by Trinity Episcopal Church.

Jarrett’s desires to join the military and serve in the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army began as a young child.  His great grandfather was a paratrooper during the Normandy invasion in World War II.  Jarrett became an avid reader because of his love of United States Military History. 

“He hated reading as a child until we got him to start reading about military battles. He couldn’t absorb enough of it. I couldn’t get him to put a book down after that,” his mother said.

The Kotalik siblings – Jarrett (standing); Grace, Rafe and Reed (seated); Not pictured is older brother, Noah.

He would watch military documentaries on conflicts and American war heroes.  Jarrett loved family travels that included National Military Museums.  He earned the Scouts BSA Hiking and Backpacking merit badges trekking national battlefields at Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Manassas, Fort McHenry, and around the U.S. Capitol with his dad, John, and Rafe.

According to John and Dawn, Jarrett was deeply patriotic and one unforgettable family trip to Arlington National Cemetery included laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers with his brothers, Noah and Rafe. The tribute honored and celebrated American veterans who had been transported through the Honor Flight Network to Washington, D.C.

Jarrett worked earnestly to graduate, ahead of schedule, from high school so that he could enlist in the United States Army as a 17-year-old.  He was determined to serve our country and chart his own military career path.  After military training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he successfully completed advanced training as a Fire Control Specialist at Fort Sill, Okla., just before the start of the COVID pandemic.  On his 18th birthday, he was jumping from perfectly good airplanes to earn his wings. 

After Airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., he was transferred to his duty station at the Home of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Liberty, North Carolina (formerly known as Fort Bragg), where he served until his unexpected passing.  His hobbies included fishing, hunting, and playing online games with his brothers that transcended the physical miles between them. He was known for his larger-than-life personality and always making experiences something to remember.

The Kotalik family consider Cleveland to be their extended community.

“When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, our kids were trying to do things in The Woodlands area. The food banks and supplies seemed to be more plentiful here than in other areas, so I contacted my friend, Jennifer Bergman (Liberty County district attorney and former Cleveland city councilwoman). We both work in the legal field. I asked her if things were going okay in Cleveland,” Dawn said. “Jennifer was trying to tirelessly do things for the Cleveland community. I called her and asked if they needed stuff for the Cleveland community, and she was ecstatic. We started making supply runs for Cleveland and other people outside our area.”

For two weeks, Jarrett and Rafe manned a supply distribution center at First Baptist Church in Cleveland, Dawn said.

“For those two consecutive weeks, I drove the boys to Cleveland every day. They were awakened to the need in Cleveland after that and continuing to do service projects for the Cleveland community in the following years,” Dawn said, adding that her sons and other Boy Scouts from The Woodlands area are currently gathering school supplies for the Cleveland community.

In addition to his parents and siblings, Jarrett is survived by his new wife, Julie, grandparents, George and Rose Kotalik, grandmother Deborah Meadows, uncle and aunt, Steven and Cheris Kotalik, and two cousins. He is preceded in death by his grandfather, J. Robert Meadows.

A celebration of his life will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 29, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 3901 S. Panther Creek Dr., The Woodlands. A reception will follow in Butler Hall on Trinity’s campus. The family asks that attendees at the memorial service wear Jarrett’s favorite color – blue.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that is anyone who would like to donate to the Make Lemonaide Foundation for Cerebral Palsy, in honor of SPC Jarrett Kotalik, do so at www.makelemonaide.org

Those attending the memorial service to honor and celebrate his life may bring donated items to benefit local non-profit organizations that were important to Jarrett.  Recommended items include non-perishable food for local pantries, school supplies for children in need, and packages of individual snacks that will be delivered to local first responders.

The Kotalik family will be joined by Scouts from BSA Troop 777, Troop 1777, Venturing Crew 112, and Cub Scout Pack 777 for the 7th annual 21 Kind Acts Day that honors former Woodlands High School football player, Grant Milton #21.  Prior to Jarrett’s departure for Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he faithfully served, along with his siblings, other Scouts and friends, for a day of service in the community benefitting 21 charitable organizations each year on Aug. 3 (Grant’s birthday).  Items placed in collection containers in the Narthex at his memorial service will be distributed to these local organizations on Aug. 3, 2023.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.


  1. Dear Family and Friends if Jarrett.
    I am extremely sad and very upset over reading of the untimely and tragic death of Jarrett. Boys who achieve the Rank of Eagle Scout are the future leaders of our country. Seemingly, the very group Jarret chose to honor by his membership let him down and did not recognize his worth and future contributions to his country. God Bless Jarrett and his grieving family, friends and community. Sadly, I did not know Jarrett, but I do know this is a tragedy beyond comprehension. I am in tears writing this and fail to understand the way Jarrett was treated by the US military. Thank you for all your love, hard work, service and sacrifice here on Earth, Jarrett. Fly high with God, Eagle Jarrett, where you are safe, loved, wanted, appreciated, worthy and waiting for all who love, miss and admire you so very much! I certainly am one of them! We are all less here on Earth without you with us!
    Kathleen Cawthon
    Cleveland, Texas
    (Mother of two grown successful Eagle Scouts aged 59 and 58 and 16 additional family members with the Rank of Eagle Scout who also are successful and live by the Scout Rule!)

  2. Hi I am Jarrett’s aunt from his real mom’s side.Her name is Nicole. I knew him as a baby and small child, but what i do remember is his smile and how much he loved his mom and grandma,Teri. Prayers for all the family.

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