Steve Kaminski, Deputy Commander of the Mississippi State Guard, passed away December 30, 2016. In Mississippi Steve was known for his leadership and innovative programs; and many in SGAUS recall Steve from the annual conventions; however, he will be best remembered for his actions on behalf of Medal of Honor recipients.
His work in this area supports the SGAUS Mission of: “Educate public officials and communities of the benefits of establishing and maintaining state defense forces.”
Steve was fond of saying his service with the State Guard was his second fulltime job, and often he found ways for his work as a 777 Captain for Delta Airlines to overlap. With Delta he frequently met senior military officers and public officials and would tell them of his State Guard service and how it benefits the community. Steve often said that one of the benefits that public officials often overlooked when considering the State Guard was the experience and network that each volunteer brought to the organization. The best example of how Steve demonstrated this was at the Trail of Honor, an annual event for veterans in Jackson, Mississippi.
The Trail of Honor hosts over 30,000 veterans during a weekend in May and the Mississippi State Guard provides support for this event. One of the highlights of the events are the WWII veterans such as the Navajo Code Talkers, Tuskegee Airmen and Medal of Honor Recipients. In one of the first planning meetings Steve attended as a liaison for the Mississippi State Guard, he attended a budget presentation on how they would like to invite more WWII veterans to speak but the funds did not allow for this. Stepping out of his role at the meeting to discuss logistics, and into his position as a Delta pilot he asked, “Would free airfare help?” and then met with Delta to help sponsor the event. Delta became a major event sponsor. If the Trail of Honor had not partnered with the State Guard this relationship may not have happened.
However, it was at this Trail of Honor event where Steve first began to plan a contribution that the recipients of our nation’s highest honor will be forever grateful for. During the Trail of Honor Steve had a chance to talk with the Medal of Honor recipients and made a discovery – those awarded our nation’s highest honor did not get an automatic upgrade to Business Class and since many had extensive injuries so legroom was al-most a necessity. Yet, none complained. Steve knew these individuals would never complain, or ask for special treatment, or expect to be upgraded – but he knew as an officer in the Mississippi State Guard and a Delta Pilot he could do some-thing. He wrote a letter to Edward H. Bastian, President, Delta Airlines. The introduction follows:
Dear Mr. Bastian:
There are 79 living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. I have had the privilege of meeting some of them while flying, but last March I spent time on the ground with Medal of Honor recipient Thomas R. Norris at the Trail of Honor event in Jackson, Mississippi where I am a Colonel in the Mississippi State Guard. Lieutenant Norris, like many of the recipients, had been wounded in action – in his case it was a three-year recovery in the hospital. We forget that recovery from wounds does not mean full mobility, and I have noticed many of the recipients I have met often need a little extra space when getting up or down. Please consider giving 79 American heroes an upgrade to business class.
The President and Board of Delta Airlines agreed with him and announced an automatic upgrade for Medal of Honor recipients. However, Steve was not done. He then distributed the Delta decision on upgrades to other airlines and in a few months this upgrade became an industry standard.
Steve continued his relationship with Medal of Honor recipients and was an honored guest at many of their gatherings. He also used his relationship and experiences with Medal of Honor recipients in the State Guard too. Soon after he accomplished his goal of the automatic upgrades, Mississippi State Guard members were informed that uniform nametapes had to be changed to red from black. There was concern among some members that having a different color would mean that State Guard members would not be viewed as real members of the military. Steve countered this perception by saying, “I was just with eight Medal of Honor recipients and they all addressed me as Colonel and thanked me for my service to our state. If our uniform is good enough for them, I would not worry about what someone else said.”
Steve was informed he had cancer in October; however, as many in the Mississippi State Guard can attest to – he just saw this as a reason to accelerate programs he had started a few months previously. Sadly, his prediction of at least six months to complete them did not occur – he passed away roughly 90 days after his diagnosis.
He was honored this past January with a memorial ceremony at Army National Guard Headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi where he was posthumously promoted to General and his widow received his Magnolia Cross, the highest peacetime medal the Mississippi National Guard may award.
By Denver Mullican