The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

March 11, 2014

Cancer takes former Vance wing commander Stewart

Maj. Gen. A.J. Stewart, former wing commander at Vance Air Force Base, has died.

Stewart died of brain cancer Sunday at Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. He was 55. A memorial service is being planned.

Stewart served as commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing from April 2002 to August 2003.

Retired Air Force Col. Dan Ohnesorge served as vice commander at Vance under Stewart.

“He was an excellent gentleman, a superb leader, really a down-to-earth kind of guy,” said Ohnesorge, who now serves as director of Enid Woodring Regional Airport. “He was a really good commander.

“He was one of the better commanders we have had.”

Mike Cooper was mayor when Stewart was wing commander at Vance.

“When you think of A.J. Stewart you think of the Air Force core values, ‘Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do,’” said Cooper, who now serves as city of Enid military liaison. “He was one of those guys who was a true inspiration to everyone he was around.”

Stewart was a 1981 graduate of the Air Force Academy. He completed undergraduate pilot training in July 1982 at Williams AFB, Ariz.

He spent 33 years in the Air Force, retiring last fall as commander of the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph AFB.

In 2012, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which proved to be stage IV, the most life-threatening form of brain cancer.

“An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor on the left temporal lobe of my brain and the doctor bluntly told me, ‘Your life will never be the same. I was literally stunned,” Stewart wrote in a 2012 column published on the AFPC website.

“On behalf of Vance Air Force Base, I extend our deepest condolences to General Stewart’s family,” said Col. Darren James, current commander of 71st Flying Training Wing. “During his tenure here as the wing commander from April 2002-August 2003, Gen. Stewart continued to foster the incredible relationship that exists between Team Vance and the city of Enid. A number of our community members remember Gen. Stewart as a dynamic leader.”

Stewart is survived by his wife, Areetha, whom he described as “the wind beneath my wings and my rock;” sons, Bryan Vincent Stewart and John Calvin Stewart II; daughter, Kalota Gurley; his mother, Sandra Stewart; his step-mother, Lillian Stewart; and five sisters.

During a return to Vance in 2007, Stewart reflected on his time at the base, and in Enid.

“The thing about Enid that I’ll just never forget is the way this city embraces this base,” Stewart said. “I could list the names of the folks who put their arms around Vance Air Force Base and said, ‘What do you need?’ That relationship between the base and the community is still the best I’ve ever seen.

“It’s more than economic concern or business interests, they really love this base. They love the young pilots and take great care of them.”

His proudest moments at Vance, he said, involved the 18 pilot training graduation ceremonies over which he presided while wing commander.

“Those pilots that graduated while I was here are now aircraft commanders and instructor pilots, and they form the core of the Air Force pilot corps,” Stewart said. “They are out there just doing magnificent things. When I think back on having presided over their training, and their graduation, and now to see them years later as just these amazing aviators, that’s a great memory to know that I participated.”

“What a great friend,” Cooper said. “We are all better off to have been touched by him even for a short time.”

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