THOMAS A. BUDREJKO, LTCOL, USMC
Thomas Budrejko '96
Date of birth: November 22, 1974
Date of death: February 22, 2012
From the 1996 Lucky Bag:
Montville, CT – Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Budrejko, USMC, 37, a former Oakdale resident, was one of seven Marines killed when two Marine Corps helicopters collided in a training accident on February 22, 2012, near Yuma, Arizona. He served as the Executive Officer of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton CA. He resided in Temecula, CA.
LtCol Budrejko was born on November 22, 1974 in Jacksonville, FL. He was a 1992 graduate of Montville High School, where he wrestled, played football, and ran track. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in Aerospace Engineering in May 1996, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. In February 1999 he completed his flight training, designated a Naval Aviator, and was selected as an AH-1W Cobra pilot. When pinned by his father, Budrejko became the third generation of Naval Aviators to wear the same ‘Wings of Gold’ worn by his father, and his great uncle, LCDR Casey Suchcicki, all three raised in Connecticut. In 2009 he attended USMC Command & Staff College where he graduated with distinction and earned a Master’s Degree in Military Studies. He was recognized by the Marine Corps as an accomplished French Linguist. His combat tours included Kosovo, three deployments to Iraq, and one to Afghanistan. He was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan again in the spring. Lt. Col Budrejko’s personal awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Individual Action Air Medal w/ Combat “V” (gold numeral 2) & Air Medal Strike/Flight (numeral 19), and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal w/ Combat “V” (fourth award), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. Well respected in the Marine Corps for his leadership abilities, as well as tactical and flying proficiencies, his next assignment was to be the Commanding Officer of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303. LtCol Budrejko’s contributions throughout his 15 years of honorable service have left an indelible mark on Marine Corps Aviation by virtue of the training programs he implemented, the tactics he improved upon, and the profound impact he had on the pilots he instructed and mentored throughout his career.
Tom was truly a family man of strong Christian faith, and his son Andrew was the joy of his life. He was a friend to all, and throughout his years of military service he kept in close contact with friends and family back home in CT. He had a great appreciation for nature, and especially enjoyed hiking and landscaping. He was an avid Philadelphia Eagles and Boston Red Sox fan. Tom was a great patriot, and his love of God and country was apparent to all he met. He had a passion for life, and never wasted one moment.
LtCol Budrejko is survived by a his wife Dianna and 2-year-old son Andrew of Temecula, CA, his parents CDR Donald and Mary (Ickes) Budrejko of Reston, VA, brother Stanley Budrejko of Colorado Springs, CO, and sisters Jillian Dietz of Reston, VA and Catherine Alexander of Carlisle, PA. He also leaves behind his beloved extended family, including five nieces and nephews, and his Godparents, Cioci Gail Budrejko of Newington and Uncle Henry Kobylarz of Kensington. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, March 17, at 10:00 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church, 626 Willard Ave., Newington. He will be laid to rest with full military honors in Sacred Heart Cemetery, New Britain. Relatives and friends are invited to call on Friday, March 16, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Newington Memorial Funeral Home, 20 Bonair Ave., Newington, CT. Donations may be made in Tom’s memory to the Semper Fi Fund or the Pro-Life organization of your choice. Condolences and memories may be shared at www.newingtonmemorial.com.
There is a wonderful page set up to remember Tom at the Budrejko Scholarship Foundation.
In their Reston living room, Mary and Don Budrejko reminisced about their son Tom who was killed in a military chopper crash Wednesday.
"The important thing is he did what he wanted to do. He died flying," says Don Budrejko.
At 37, Major Budrejko was an elite chopper pilot. He served three deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2005, and one deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010. After an Easter break, he was heading for a new assignment in Afghanistan.
Family members say Budrejko loved three things: the Marines, flying for his country and his family.
"He was passionate about what he did," says a proud Mary Budrejko. "He loved life, he loved his family. He was a lot of fun."
Budrejko was one of seven Marines killed when two military helicopters collided during a late-night training mission along the Arizona-California border.
He left behind his wife Diana and his 2-year-old son Andrew.
"For him to have died in an accident stateside is pretty--it was very shocking." says Mrs. Budrejko. "I just can't believe we're going though this."
Experts say the nighttime maneuvers are difficult and complex.
Pilots and other personnel use special goggles to see in complete darkness.
Military analyst Steve Ganyard says the goggles can be a challenge.
"These night vision goggles have a narrow field of view," he says. "Not much more than a soda straw."
Don Budrejko says these tests are the only real way for pilots to prepare for the real thing.
So far, the family hasn't been told much except that there might be other factors.
"It was a brownout, I believe they call it," Mary Budrejko said. "There was some dust in the air, sand in the air. Only thing we know about it."
Family members are taking comfort from the many prayers and calls coming their way.
"We were proud," Don Budrejko said. "He was a good stick, good pilot. I always thought he'd make it back. It's a very dangerous business."
His personal awards included: Air Medal Individual Action with Combat "V" (gold numeral 2), Air Medal Strike/Flight (numeral 9), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat "V" (fourth award), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Budrejko served his country and served it well, but he was always unassuming, even humble, about his role, his family said.
"He never thought of himself as being better than anyone else," Mary Budrejko said. "He was a great son. He was our hero."
The military is trying to determine what caused the collision. A memorial service will be held March 3 to honor all seven Marines who were killed.
Family members say Maj. Budrejko will be laid to rest in New Britain, Connecticut where he was raised.
From the Pensacola New Journal on March 21, 1999:
In 1970 Lt. Cmdr. Casey Suchcicki of Pensacola pinned his wings on his nephew Ensign Donald Budrejko upon his completion of the flight program at Pensacola Naval Air Station. On Friday, Budrejko used the same wings to pin his son 1st Lt. Thomas Budrejko at Whiting Field, making this the third generation to wear the same flight wings.
His gravestone and Memorial Hall have his rank as Lieutenant Colonel; likely a posthumous promotion.
Michael Quin '06 was aboard the other helicopter that crashed.