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NEWS | April 18, 2010

Former 437 AW commander remembered

By Rose Alexander Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Mikolajcik, former commander of the 437th Airlift Wing, passed away April 17, 2010, at home in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., at the age of 63 after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. General Mikolajcik was commander of the 437th Airlift Wing here from July 1991 to June 1994.

General Mikolajcik, born Aug. 17, 1946, in Norwich, Conn., graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1969. He completed pilot training in 1970, and eventually became a command pilot with over 4,000 hours in C-141, C-9, C-130 and C-17 aircraft. He served as an instructor pilot, aircraft commander, war plans officer, current operations officer, mobility project officer, and adviser to the chief of staff for airlift and logistics policy. He held several staff positions, and served as squadron commander, wing vice commander and commander of two wings.

General Mikolajcik was the U.S. Air Force component commander in Somalia from December 1992 to March 1993 during Operation Restore Hope while he served as the 437th Airlift Wing Commander. He helped activate the first squadron of C-17s, the Air Force's newest generation of airlift aircraft, while in command here. The first operational C-17 was delivered in June 1993.

He was the recipient of numerous military awards and decorations including the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters. The general retired from the Air Force in 1996 after serving 27 years.

After retirement, General Mikolajcik remained an advocate for the military and became a key community leader and advisor. He was military advisor to the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce until he was diagnosed with ALS in 2003. Following his diagnosis, he became an advocate of victims of the disease - especially veterans who show greater risk of contracting the disease.

He tirelessly pushed for ALS research and testified before a congressional committee in July 2007. His efforts were instrumental in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs decision to grant service-connected disability benefits to all veterans with ALS. He also played a key role in establishing the South Carolina ALS Foundation and ALS clinic at the Medical University of South Carolina.

"Throughout his life in the Air Force and in the community, he was a leader who others looked up to and the strength and courage he showed at the end of his life deeply touched everyone around him," said Col. Martha Meeker, commander of Joint Base Charleston.

The General Thomas R. Mikolajcik Child Development Center was dedicated in his name in August 2007, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held Feb. 13, 2009, to start construction of the $9.8 million center.

"While he is no longer with us, every time one of our Airmen takes their child to the General Mikolajcik Child Development Center, he will be remembered," said Colonel Meeker. "And every time a Veteran suffering from ALS receives VA care, he will be thanked."

General Mikolajcik will forever be remembered by Air Mobility Command, the Air Force and the nation as a great Airman, warrior and leader. His extraordinary legacy will continue to live on for years to come.

Funeral arrangements will be provided by McAllister-Smith Funeral Home, Mt. Pleasant, S.C. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, S.C., on Saturday, April 24, 2010.