Major Tom Budrejko killed in chopper crash during training
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.