Help for Soldier Whose Belongings Were Sold While in Iraq

A soldier whose stored possessions were sold while he was in Iraq might never recover such treasures as family photos, but offers of help are streaming his way from strangers touched by his plight.

Patrick Rogalin, a 20-year-old Army Reserve specialist, came home in October from a year in Iraq to find that Public Storage Inc. had auctioned off his books, furniture, clothes and everything else he had stored at one of the company's sites near St. Louis.

For what he valued as $8,000 worth of goods, Public Storage initially offered $2,000. On Monday he accepted a settlement of $4,000 — but by then his story was on its way to becoming a national news item, via the Springfield News-Leader and later The Associated Press.

The newspaper received more than 50 calls and e-mails from people wanting to help Rogalin and, in some cases, chiding the storage company.

A southwest Missouri woman wants to pay for Rogalin's textbooks while he attends Missouri State University. One man offered to send him $1,000 anonymously. And lawyers lined up to represent him for free.

Rogalin, who must now decide what to do with the offers, said he decided to take Public Storage's offer even though it was less than the company's maximum liability of $5,000.

"I'm trying to go to work. I'm trying to go to school," Rogalin said. "Messing with them was just such a hassle."

Before shipping out, Rogalin said, he had set up automatic payments with Public Storage. But while he was in Iraq, he said, someone accessed his checking account and wrote more than $900 in worthless checks, which caused his storage payments to bounce.

After learning of the problem from his bank, Rogalin opened a different account. He resumed making payments to Public Storage.

"When I got back I called Public Storage to find out the status of my account and they told me the contents of my storage container had been auctioned off in June because the bill hadn't been paid," he said.

Rogalin said Public Storage never told him his account was in trouble, nor that everything he owned was going to be sold. Left only with his car and his military clothing, he moved in with his girlfriend, a student at Missouri State.

Ron Ramler, general manager of the Crestwood Public Storage facility, said a confidentiality clause prevented him from talking about the settlement.

"We regret this unfortunate situation. Public Storage supports the people in the armed services."

Ramler said he was well aware of the 2003 Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a federal law that among other things limits the ability of businesses like Public Storage to auction service members' belongings while they are on active duty.

A Missouri law requires storage companies to send two notices — one of them certified — to customers who are in default. Rogalin said he received no such correspondence from Public Storage.

Rogalin said he doesn't know what to make of all the attention. But his mother, Susan Molina of Whitman, Mass., has strong feelings about the matter.

"I'm furious," she said.