Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Army Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer

Remember Our Heroes

Army Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, 44, of Perrysburg, Ohio

Lt. Col. Belkofer was assigned to Headquarters, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.; died May 18, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered in a suicide car bombing. Also killed were Col. John M. McHugh, Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman and Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson.

When an Army officer came bearing news that their son had been killed in Afghanistan, Sharon and Donald Belkofer, Jr., were convinced he must be mistaken. Their middle child, Army Lt. Col. Thomas Belkofer, wasn't due in combat until October. "We argued with them," Mrs. Belkofer said. "It can't be. He's not even supposed to be over there." But there was no mistake.

Colonel Belkofer hadn't shared with his parents or two brothers that he was to spend a few weeks in leadership training in Afghanistan months before being deployed there as a commander. The 44-year-old man was one of five officers killed near Kabul Tuesday when a suicide bomber attacked their convoy, military officials said. His family is struggling to believe the truth.

"It's like you're in a fog," Mr. Belkofer said yesterday, sitting close to his wife on the living room couch in their Perrysburg Township home.

"You think you're watching something in a movie. You think, this isn't even real," Mrs. Belkofer said. "Because even though you feared something like this could happen, you don't believe it will happen."

Colonel Belkofer was assigned to the headquarters of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.

A woman who answered the telephone at his New York home said his wife was not available for comment because she was "busy with a lot of company."

The elder Mrs. Belkofer said her daughter-in-law and her granddaughters are leaning on the "tremendous support system" of the other military families at Fort Drum.

Colonel Belkofer's 18-year service sent him to posts in Italy, Fort Meade, Md., the Pentagon, and a 13-month combat deployment Afghanistan in 2005. He remained on active duty as he earned a master's degree in business administration from Syracuse University.

His death was just two years before he would have been eligible for retirement, his family said. Colonel Belkofer volunteered for what he expected would be his final deployment and hoped it would lead to a promotion from lieutenant colonel to full colonel, his elder brother, Don Belkofer, 46, of Curtice, said.

"He was just passionate about everything that he was involved in - 110 percent or not at all," his elder brother asserted. "He wasn't the kind of guy that would take a job, put in his years, and retire." Growing up, he was an active, determined youth. "Of the three, he was probably the one if you told him to do something, you'd expect more of an argument out of him," his father said, smiling.

Before he graduated in 1983, he was a football player and stand-out wrestler at Rossford High School. He briefly attended Wright State University and the University of Toledo before transferring to Bowling Green State University.

He served in the Army National Guard before signing up for the ROTC program at BGSU, where he met his college sweetheart and future wife, Margaret "Margo" Maness.

They married in 1992, the same year he earned a bachelor's degree in architectural and environmental design technology. Both entered the Army upon graduation. She rose to become a captain before resigning to care for their two children, the family said.

Though all three of the Belkofer sons served in the military - with the eldest, Don, spending six years with the Navy, and the youngest, Doug, in the Army National Guard for seven - the family was surprised when Thomas first expressed interest in a long-term military career.

His younger brother, Doug Belkofer, 42, of Euless, Texas, said he believed he set his heart on moving up the ranks after training at Fort Benning in Georgia. "He seemed different after that. He seemed really kind of psyched up about being in the military. He seemed really excited about it," his younger brother said.

"I like to think he was doing what he loved and what he was passionate about, because that's what I want to believe. A lot of people think I'm crazy for jumping out of planes as much as I do. I know it's dangerous, but I accept that risk for what I get from it."

His parents have their own opinions about the war, but do not blame the government or the military for their son's death. Mrs. Belkofer has expressed her opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in several letters to the editor submitted to The Blade. "If I could wiggle my nose and get everyone out, I would," Mrs. Belkofer said yesterday. "But it doesn't work that way. You can't desert those people."

Now, she's trying to focus on her son's accomplishments rather than her frustrations about the politics that sent him into harm's way. "You get angry. You want to take it out on somebody, that you never get to see him again," Mrs. Belkofer said. "But there is so much pride as well."

He is survived by his wife, Margo, their two daughters, Alyssa, 15, and Ashley, 11, his parents Sharon and Donald Jr, and his brothers Don and Doug.

Army Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer was killed in action 5/18/10.

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