Sunday, May 20, 2007

Thomas G. Wright dies 'from a non-combat related illness'

GRAND BLANC TWP. - Sgt. Thomas G. Wright, 38, was a dedicated soldier, avid bicycle racer and loving husband.

But his 4-year-old daughter, Alexis, came first.

"His daughter was the twinkle in his eye," said Valentina Binion, a former co-worker at Wilson's Leather in Auburn Hills' Great Lakes Crossing shopping center, where Wright was an assistant manager for two years. "He always talked about how much he loved her."

Wright, who died Sunday in Iraq after possibly suffering an aneurysm, spent time with his daughter and his wife, Katherine, while on leave for two weeks in February, taking Alexis to a daddy-daughter dance in Grand Blanc.

When Alexis was born in 2002, Wright pulled strings to be at Katherine's side even though he was assigned to security detail at the Pentagon at the time.

"He was always doing the best he could to take care of his family," said 1st Lt. David Skurda, formerly Wright's platoon leader with the 144th Military Police Company, a Michigan Army National Guard unit based in Owosso.

Wright was deployed to Iraq last July with the Guard's 46th Military Police Company out of Kingsford and Cheboygan, said Master Sgt. Denice Rankin, a public affairs specialist for the Michigan National Guard.

Wright, who joined the National Guard seven years ago, provided airport security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and spent a month in New Orleans cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina. He was promoted to sergeant Jan. 1, 2004.

He performed his military duties with bravery and commitment, Skurda said, earning a Bronze Star, a Joint Services Achievement medal and a long list of other decorations.

"He was a very faithful (non-commissioned officer)," Skurda said. "I can still hear his voice as clear as day: 'Yes, sir. No problem, sir.' I never heard anything negative come out of his mouth.

"He was the kind of guy you could always rely on."

Friends said Wright's family is taking his sudden death hard.

"His dad is absolutely devastated," said Jeff Nofpz, bike racing coach to Wright and his younger brother, Paul, since they were young boys.

Katherine, who married Wright in 1993, is heartbroken, "but now she's coming to grips with it a little bit more," Skurda said.

Wright's parents, Florida residents, are staying with Katherine and Alexis at their home in Grand Blanc Township, Skurda said.

"(Wright's death) was a shock to everybody," he said. "He was a fit person."

For about 15 years, Wright was a member of the Flying Rhinos bicycling club, sponsored by Kinetic Systems in Clarkston, competing at the state and national levels.

"He wasn't great, but he was good," said Skurda, owner of Kinetic Systems. "He was enthusiastic, and he was always there. He put down a set of goals and worked to achieve it."

Wright grew up in Rochester and lived in Auburn Hills for several years before moving his family to the Flint suburb.

When not performing National Guard duties, he held jobs at Wilson's Leather, Best Buy and a car interior company, and owned his own equipment assembly business.

"He was a regular guy," Skurda said. "He was just wonderful, nice. He was like Jimmy Stewart in 'It's a Wonderful Life.'"

From the Flint Journal