Paul Kucharek: Tradition of Excellence
On the eve of Wilhelm the Second’s ascension to the throne in April 1888, Paul Kucharek was commissioned into the Prussian military. One hundred years later, his great grandson BYU ROTC Detachment 855 commander Paul Kucharek, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
“I didn’t find this out until years later when I was learning about my family history,” Kucharek says. “When you look at it that way, military service has been something of a long tradition in my family.”
Growing up on the east side of Detroit, Kucharek says his parents instilled in him a strong tradition of patriotism. His father served in the National Guard and both his older brothers joined the army. It wasn’t only tradition, however, that propelled Kucharek to military service. It was a calling.
“During college at the University of Detroit, I found out very quickly that I couldn’t see myself satisfied going to work every day and not having something bigger to be a part of than just collecting a paycheck,” Kucharek says. “I knew I wanted to fly, so even before I graduated I applied to be a pilot.”
During pilot training, Kucharek was grounded by medical issues but not for long. After two and a half years of hard work, Kucharek got back into training and began flying C-130 transport aircrafts.
Twenty-seven years later, Kucharek has had a successful military career that includes more than 3,200 flying hours, 250 combat hours, international combat missions, multiple tours of duty, and a stint at the Pentagon.
The call to service is what eventually brought Kucharek to BYU in 2012. The ROTC’s mission—training the next generation of air force leaders—was something Kucharek could get excited about. While he has been impressed with many of BYU’s traditions since coming to the university, one stands out.
“The first thing I noticed was the caliber of the cadets,” Kucharek says. “They know how to work and come with a certain maturity and outlook on life that isn’t easy to find. They make my job a lot easier because they already come with the material to be outstanding officers.”
Although Kucharek is confident his cadets will have impressive careers, he personally knows the price that is paid by military families.
”My wife and family hold down the fort at home,” he says. “Even though they aren’t in direct military service, they’re still serving their country through their sacrifices.”
Despite the challenges of military life, Kucharek plans to continue passing down the traditions of family, faith, and flag to the students he teaches as well as his own six children.
“I have been given a sacred trust to train the future,” Kucharek says. “I look forward to waking up every morning and doing what I do. It is an enormous blessing to be able to share the traditions of excellence that I’ve had the opportunity to practice throughout my life.”