“This is the history of all the places I went. Dharan, St. Louis, Fort Drum, Camp Nimal..” and the list goes on.

In his over 27 years of service, Thomas Mikilinis has traveled across the globe. He spent the majority of his career serving as an engineer for the United States military, and his experience as a platoon leader allowed him to move to the North Country in 1984.

“I was a native for fishing at Sackets Harbor here up in New York,” Mikilinis said. “Been fishing up here since ’77. This was ’85. I said ‘Let me go up, let me go to Fort Drum.”

At the time he arrived, Fort Drum looked much different than it does today.

“It was World War II buildings with two buildings that were made outta concrete, the PX and the health clinic. I was here when they had the quarry running at Fort Drum. I was the Heavy Equipment Officer for the 76th Engineered Battalion, the only active duty asset other than the MPs and the medical clinic people. It was like it was our base and then it all kind of transitioned.”

In 1984 it was decided that Fort Drum would be the new home of the 10th Light Infantry Division, which meant the construction of 130 new buildings, 35 miles of roads and over 4,000 sets of family housing units, according to the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum. It was a process that Mikilinis was a part of.

“Putting in new additional range roads and things of that nature and I ran the quarry. So I got to crush a lot of rock and pretty much became part of the transition about a year and a half into it when we became the 41st Engineers and became the 10th Mountain Divison Battalion Engineer asset for construction.”

With the new division, Mikilinis was able to take advantage of the new resources and new experiences.

“I had the opportunity to implode a building, which was pretty neat, using a five-pound bag of flour. So there’s things you can do. It was a little twist from, instead of putting in a water heater and putting a roof on, it was more like, ‘Can I make this hole any bigger so a tank can get through it? Or can I drop these trees in a way that they’ll interlock that a Jeep can’t get through?’ Things of that nature. So that was what the 10th Mountain brought me.”

Afterward, he moved on to teaching basic training, which was when the first Gulf War began. He was in charge of supplying all the munitions for his company, which was an unimaginable mission.

“Well, I knew what my mission was. I couldn’t talk about it. We actually were set up to go into Baghdad and get Husain,” Mikilinis said.

Although their mission was adjusted just a few days later, he said it was difficult being on the front lines of the conflict.

“Going through a lot of battle scenes with a lot of death, a lot of death, a lot of mind games. I mean, it was something that was good because I trained for it, you know, I was mentally prepared for it, but you’re never totally mentally prepared for it,” he said.

While watching casualties take place in front of him, Mikilinis was reminded of his family back home and the risk of his own life.

“One of the hardest things in my life was taking my wife home to one of our cemeteries for my church and said to her, if I don’t make it back, this is where I’m gonna be.”

Despite the tough situations he faced during his 21-month tour, he returned to the Middle East later on in life as a civilian to serve as a Senior Civilian Analyst to rate equipment for its effectiveness.

“You’re doing what needs to get done,” Mikilinis said. “Because if you don’t do it and don’t do it right, something’s not gonna go right.”

It was a willingness to serve that Mikilinis never lost as he continues to serve as a facility engineer to this day.

“I can say I enjoyed everything that I’ve ever done in the military and as a civilian, even though at times it really sucked,” he said.

When asked what he’s most proud of, Mikilinis unquestionably said his family, but also the lasting impact he was able to have while serving.

“I had an impact, not just on training and soldiers that went forward, but I also turned on and switched gears,” Mikilinis said. “I made sure now that the equipment that we had that wasn’t sufficient is now in the process of being either upgraded or replaced with equipment that is better.”