Tom Patykula rises early on a Saturday morning in June. His ankles tinge with slight pain, souvenirs from his military service and a distinguished athletic career in college football and wrestling. Still ingrained with the discipline of an Army Ranger, he presses on to get the job done.
He will lead his last class of over 80 Fellows on a team-building excursion to Oahu’s world-famous North Shore. After this trip, he will retire from Federal civil service after 23 years at the Center.
For over 185 courses, he has served as the Center’s ambassador to its Fellows from all over the world. When the Fellows arrive at the airport, he is usually one of the first smiling faces they see. With his trademark commanding style and a voice that resonates across the room, he leads the Fellows with regular updates and safety briefs. Most weekends, he spearheads hikes and educational visits that allow them to bond outside the classroom, cultivating friendships that last long after the course is complete.
As Chief of the Admissions department, Patykula directs a team responsible for course recruiting, admissions, logistics, team-building, and alumni connections. While laborious effort goes into executing a course, the DKI APCSS mission kept him motivated throughout the years. For Patykula, building friendships between people from different cultures simply “makes the world a better place.”
During his time, the Center transformed from hosting short conferences to an educational institution that regularly provides executive-level courses and workshops. When he started in 1999, the Center typically invited U.S.-based military Fellows. Today, over 14,000 alumni work in various sectors and are located throughout the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. As the institution evolved, it was left to Patykula and his team to find a way to execute an expanding vision for the Center. Patykula led his team to success every step of the way.
“Every curve ball we threw Tom and his group would be able to hit the ball out of the park,” said Richard Sears, Dean of the College of Business Operations. “His focus was always on the organization and on the Fellows.”
“Tom is an institutional legend,” said Carleton Cramer, Dean of the College of Security Studies. “He has genuinely touched thousands of lives, connecting Fellows with each other and connecting Fellows to the Center. Tom’s DNA is infused in every aspect of our Center. He exemplifies our core values. To this day, he leads the Center by showing us how to treat each other.”
His DKI APCSS ohana describe him as a leader who balanced being kind and modest while at the same time being firm and outspoken.
“I’ll miss his singing, even though he couldn’t sing a note,” said Kaelene Foo, Office Support Assistant, who has worked for Patykula in the Admissions Department for over 20 years. “I will remember his personality. He would play his playlist and always started singing, and he would get the rest of us to sing, too.”
He learned leadership growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, under the watch of a Navy senior chief engineer, his dad, who sounded reveille for Patykula and his two brothers each morning with a piercing, high-pitched boatswain’s pipe.
“I was a newspaper boy, and he’d have me out at four o’clock every morning delivering papers, all the way through to my senior year in high school,” reminisced.
His father eventually retired as a lieutenant after 28 years. Patykula attended Norview High where he was the football team captain and made all-state. He also played football for two more years while attending Virginia Military Institute. After suffering “too many” ankle injuries he turned to wrestling and his leadership skills once again propelled him to the position of team captain.
After college, Patykula taught fifth-graders for six months before receiving his commission in the Army in March 1975 as an infantry officer and Airborne Ranger. His Army career spanned 27 years in a variety of billets and duty stations, then ended at DKI APCSS as a lieutenant colonel when he was assigned as the admissions department chief. After retiring from the Army in 2003, Patykula applied and was selected as admissions chief after competing against other candidates. He has served under five directors and supported countless events and workshops.
In his retirement ceremony, he spoke before an auditorium filled with his family and current and former colleagues (his brother, John, and his eldest son, Tim, attended virtually). He thanked his wife, Ida, with whom he has been married for 48 years.
“She’s been my best friend, my confidant,” said Patykula. “We’ve been together for 50 years- 2 years dating and 48 years of marriage. She always helps out with cooking chicken for 150 people, making salads for the IPOC, giving Zumba classes, picking up Fellow’s wives from the airport, and even Costco runs. She did it all. Like they say in Hawaii, you the best.”
He summarized his time at the Center fondly recalling one Fellow who gave a speech he’ll never forget. The Pakistani general described the DKI APCSS experience as “designed to break down barriers and build new relationships that can withstand and overcome the pettiness of politics, the provincialism of culture, the deafness and dumbness of ideology, and the inertia of bureaucracy.” The Fellow told a story about Abraham Lincoln, who, after a bloody and violent Civil War, was confronted for speaking on befriending his enemies rather than destroying them. For barely a moment, Patykula’s trademark voice breaks as he quotes the words of the American president who said, “Do I not destroy my enemies, when I am making them my friends?”
Patykula received the DKI APCSS Certification of Appreciation, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency World of Excellence Award, Certificate of Retirement, and a diamond plaque for 48 years of total service to the Federal government. He also received personal congratulatory letters from Hawaii Governor David Ige and U.S. Senator Brian Schatz.