The story below from NCAA Champion magazine profiles Air Force baseball coach Mike Kazlausky, a former player of LSU coach Paul Mainieri's when Mainieri served as the Air Force head coach. Kazlausky played under Mainieri at Air Force in 1989, 1990 and 1991, and he served as an assistant coach on Mainieri's Air Force staff in 1993 and 1994.
Kazlausky leads his Air Force squad against his mentor at 7 p.m. Friday when the Falcons meet LSU in Alex Box Stadium in the Tigers' 2012 season opener.
From NCAA Champions Magazine
Mike Kazlausky retired from active duty in the Air Force on May 31, and it was one of the worst days in his life.
It meant that he would no longer wear the Air Force uniform after two decades of doing so, sometimes while in combat.
"Wearing the American flag on my left shoulder is a proud honor," said Kazlausky, a 1991 Air Force graduate and the current baseball coach for the Falcons. "It says that I protected our country. I provided a security blanket that allowed people to sleep well at night. I don't take that for granted."
Now, he spends his time preparing the current crop of Air Force cadets to be future officers and leaders. He was named head baseball coach two days after retiring from active duty. He spent the 2011 season as the squad's interim coach, leading the Falcons to their most wins since 2002.
When he was finishing high school in Fox Lake, Ill., Kazlausky had no military background. But when he looked into what Air Force had to offer, he knew that was the type of challenge he wanted.
"I did well academically and athletically in high school," Kazlausky said. "All my friends were going to local colleges in all areas of Illinois. I wanted to branch out and be different."
After a standout career as a student-athlete - he was a two-time all-Western Athletic Conference selection who led the Falcons in batting in 1989 and 1991 - Kazlausky served as an assistant coach for the program before being assigned to Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., where he flew C-17 transport aircraft.
He flew missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When you are being fired at, or when things hit the fan a little bit, it's not like you got scared," Kazlausky said. "It was more like, those guys are trying to shoot us down, and it makes you mad. In those moments, your training kicks in. You've trained so much for that particular threat that you are ready to go back to the book for what you need to do to provide for a safe mission."
When 9/11 occurred, Kazlausky was a flight instructor at the academy. As the events of the day unfolded, though, he called the base in Charleston.
"I wanted to get back in the fight, and I was willing to do anything," Kazlausky said.
Since he hadn't flown C-17s in a while, Kazlausky had to requalify to operate the aircraft.
He was deployed overseas after leaving his academy assignment in 2004.
"I've flown around the world and been able to see some great things," said Kazlausky, who retired with the rank of major. "I've also seen some things that I never want to see again. It gives me an appreciation for the United States of America and what we are truly all about."
Now, Kazlausky recruits young men who are looking for the same challenge he sought when he was leaving high school.
Kazlausky said that the men and women who choose to attend any of the military academies are answering a higher calling.
"Those young men and women are fully committed to making our country better," Kazlausky said. "It's an experience you can't get anywhere else. That's why I think it is a great opportunity for me to be back here - to be a role model and mentor for these young men and women as they prepare to become leaders."
Kazlausky and his wife, Kris, have a 12-year-old daughter, Sammy, and an 8-year old son, Mick. They are already showing signs of following in their father's footsteps.
"My daughter is convinced she's going to be an F-16 pilot," Kazlausky said. "She'll be in the class of 2021. My son will be in the class of 2025. Am I going to push them this way? Darn right I am. Do I think this is the greatest school in the country? Darn right it is.
"It is an amazing opportunity for kids to learn so much about themselves, but more importantly, they can protect our country."