Thomas J. "Tom" Masiello didn't plan on a military career when he was growing up in Youngstown.
After graduating from Lewiston-Porter High School in 1977, he went on to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Col., for a five-year stint to get an education and see the world.
He saw it all right, from the exotic and exciting to the most dangerous place on earth: Baghdad.
Masiello is an Air Force colonel now and soon will be promoted to general. He comes back to his hometown often to visit his mother, Cecilia, in Youngstown and his brothers and sisters who live in the Niagara area.
He divides his time between Central Command (CENTCOM) Headquarters in Tampa, Fla., and Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar. Niagara Weekend caught up with him between assignments.
>How did young Tom Masiello from Youngstown end up an Air Force colonel, soon to be a general?
I was looking to go away to school. They paid the tuition and I made a five-year commitment. I graduated in 1981 and didn't want to leave. I loved it -- the Air Force and the life.
>You have an impressive resume, stretching from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Harvard Business School in Massachusetts.
I've kept busy.
>Distinguished graduate, fighter weapons instructor course and test pilot school, master's degrees in aeronautical science and national security strategy, and much more, but what stands out?
Test pilot. I've flown fighters all my adult life -- F-111s, F-15s, F-16s -- logging over 3,300 hours in more than 20 different aircraft. It's a real high, flying those things.
>Do you know Chuck Yeager?
The living legend, yes, I do. I met him at Edwards Air Force Base some years ago. It was an informal gathering, a bunch of us sitting around a kitchen table talking about -- what else? -- aircraft.
>You're currently Chief of Staff Forward at Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. What does that entail?
Managing, coordinating and synchronizing the operations and staff between the split-based headquarters in Tampa and Qatar.
>When were you in Baghdad and why?
August of 2005 to interface with the multinational forces.
>What was the mood of the troops, given the political wrangling back home?
Morale was surprisingly very high. The guys in the field don't get too involved in the politics of the situation. We all have a mission and we continue to do it.
>What's it like being in the most dangerous place on earth?
You don't dwell on the danger. When you put on the uniform and get commissioned, you know part of that means being placed in harm's way. When you go outside the wire, as we call it, meaning the compound, your inherent objective is to serve your country.
>What's your next assignment?
At this point in time I don't know. Once you're made colonel, they send you where you're best suited.
>And when you make general?
I'll probably end up in the Pentagon in a senior leadership position. That would suit me because my wife is an Air Force colonel at the Pentagon.
>Does the military run in your family?
My late father, Ralph, was in the Army in World War II. Stateside, he was a professor for many years at Niagara University. My 20-year-old son, Mike, is a freshman at the Air Force Academy. He wants to be a fighter pilot. My other son, Robert, 15, is in high school. I have a brother, Greg, in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq for a year.
>Who else is in your family?
I have a brother, Jim, who lives in Grand Island, and two sisters, Carol of Youngstown, and Mary Helen Miller, who is a nurse in Baltimore.
>Do you all keep in touch?
We try to get together as often as we can at my mother's place in Youngstown. She still lives in the house I grew up in.
>Do you miss living in the Niagara area?
I miss it big time. It's a great place to grow up and raise a family. I've been stationed all over the world, but in my mind I keep coming back to Buffalo Niagara.
>Do you ever get back here for Lew-Port school reunions?
I've been to the 10th and the 20th, and I hope to make it in July for the 30th.
>Are you going to wear your uniform?
No, I'll just be one of the guys.