A globetrotter whose travels took him from high school in New Mexico to a pineapple farm in Hawaii and from backpacking in Europe to working at a toxic waste incinerator in Utah, died last week in Iraq, where family members said he was on his latest adventure as a U.S. soldier.
    Stephen Kowalczyk, 32, was shot on March 14 by a sniper while on patrol with his Texas-based cavalry unit in Muqdadiyah, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.
    Kowalczyk landed in Utah in the mid-1990s, living in Salt Lake City and working as a lab technician in Aragonite, where he tested samples of incoming waste for destruction.
    "He was just a gentle, kind soul," said Neal Collins, a Lutheran minister who befriended Kowalczyk in Utah. "We would go out and hike together, to drink wine and talk, and you always knew that Steve wasn't thinking about five years ago or five years ahead. When he was in a room with you, you always knew he was right there with you . . . .
    "I cannot think of anybody who did not love this man."
    Sister-in-law Kirsten Park said Kowalczyk was courageous from an early age. She recalled a family trip to Lake Powell in which the star high school swimmer volunteered to help locate a man who apparently had drowned.
    "He didn't think twice about diving below the boat in the dark, murky water to see if he could recover the body," she said.
    Kowalczyk joined the Army after spending several years in California. Though he enlisted after having had some trouble finding other work, family members said Kowalczyk enjoyed many aspects of being a soldier, particularly in Iraq.
    His age, travels and experiences gave him a special perspective on the ancient land. And while many U.S. service members in Iraq saw an oil-stained and war-torn desert nation in ruins, Kowalczyk saw a country rich in history, culture and opportunities for appreciating nature's diversity.
    Collins will preside over a funeral for Kowalczyk to be held April 5 in Boulder, Colo. yet another place Kowalczyk called home where much of his family now resides.