From a cook to an assistant adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Thomas Grabowski, ’90, rose in rank with a little help from Georgia College.
He worked part-time as a cook at the noncommissioned Officers’ Club at Robins Air Force Base, while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Middle Georgia State University. He then transferred to Georgia College.
“My junior and senior years were exciting to me, because I could really focus on marketing and advertising,” he said.
Dr. Gordon Long, former chair of marketing and Dr. Thomas Pritchett, the former assistant chair of marketing made a marked impression on Grabowski.
“Dr. Long had an uncanny way to synthesize what was in the textbooks and provide real-world, practical examples of why this content was important,” Grabowski said. “We helped local merchants to increase foot traffic and recommended targeting the university market.”
After graduating from Georgia College, Grabowski spent 15 years in the restaurant business in Middle Georgia.
“I was able to put my marketing and advertising skills to work in the food and beverage sector almost immediately upon graduation,” he said.
Once he joined the Georgia Air National Guard, Grabowski applied what he learned from Long and Pritchett even more.
“I applied those marketing concepts continuously over the last 33 years in the Air Force,” he said. “We totally rebranded an air training center in Savannah, Georgia. The education I got at Georgia College was invaluable to restructuring the Air Force mission in Savannah and marketing it properly.”
“The business classes I took definitely helped me hone and focus on my customer-first approach that I still use in my military position today,” he said. “I’m over 2,800 men and women in the Air National Guard every day and provide direction over who’s flying in Georgia. This is very much a team sport, so I put them first.”
A highlight of Grabowski’s career was when he served as a squadron commander of an aircraft called Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS)—a command post that flies over enemy territory while supporting the United States Army and Marine Corp. on the ground. Grabowski employed the system worldwide and has logged over 2,700 combat flying hours for the E-8C JSTARS, supporting coalition and joint partners in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2008.
“We were like the ‘911 call’ for ground troops that were in trouble or when the U.S. Army or Marine Corp. needed U.S. airpower,” he said. “They would call us, and we made sure we got the right Air Force aircraft paired with the ground commanders in a timely manner.”
On a typical workday for Grabowski, his job is to ensure that the members of the Georgia Air National Guard are trained, prepared and equipped to deploy worldwide and are ready to serve the Adjutant General and governor during a natural disaster.
“At any given time, we have 200 to 300 people deployed across the globe, who support combat and commanders in different operations,” he said. “I’m in charge of their personal and professional development, making sure that they’re medically ready and prepared to do their specific job and ready to fight on day one.”
Possessing numerous accolades, Grabowski is most humbled by the humanitarian service medal he received for aiding victims of the catastrophic flooding that hit middle Georgia in 1994 due to Tropical Storm Alberto.
“I spent three weeks passing out bottled water, building sandbags and helping individuals in the local community get back on their feet. That’s one of the beauties of being in the Air National Guard. I take two oaths—one to the President of the United States to protect the country from terror, foreign and domestic, and the other is to the Governor of Georgia to take care of citizens in times of natural disasters or crises. I’ve had the fondest memories of aiding Georgians through hard times.”
He continues helping people today. At this stage of his profession, Grabowski sees himself more as a mentor than a leader.
“I enjoy seeing other people succeed,” he said. “I’m at the top of my career. So, now I can turn my attention toward helping others develop their skills to meet their career objectives; just like senior mentors helped me get where I’m at. Much of this was instilled in me by Professors Drs. Long and Pritchett in the business department. Those guys spent a lot of time mentoring me. So, for that I will be eternally grateful.”
Grabowski knows what it took to reach the pinnacle of his career.
“There is no substitute for work ethic,” he said. “You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room, but you must be prepared to outwork the smartest guy in the room and get in there and roll up your sleeves and get the job done. This gets noticed by employers.”
On Jan. 13, 2019, Grabowski assumed command as assistant adjutant general—Air, Georgia National Guard. He is responsible for direct supervision of the Georgia State Air Guard staff and and also is the commander of the Georgia Air National Guard.
“This is really a Cinderella story for me, as someone who started at the bottom of the organization to now, where I’m the commander of the entire Georgia Air National Guard,” Grabowski said. “I am eternally honored and grateful to Gov. Kemp and Major Gen. Carden for the opportunity to come to work every day and lead this organization. It’s really a dream come true.”