As his assignment in Iraq neared completion, Army National Guard Spc. Michael Mihalakis e-mailed his instructors at Cuesta College near San Luis Obispo and asked them to hold him a place in their spring classes. His unexpected overseas adventures were coming to a close, and he was ready to renew his quest for a business degree.
But Mihalakis, 18, died Dec. 26 after his Humvee rolled over at a darkened intersection near Baghdad International Airport. He had only 17 days left on his assignment in Iraq with the Guard's 270th Military Police Company, based in Fairfield, between San Francisco and Sacramento. His death is the second California National Guard fatality in the conflict, and he is one of the youngest American soldiers to die during the eight-month U.S. occupation.
"He was already planning the next phase of his life," his mother, Diana, said from the family home in San Jose. "He went out to discover himself and to grow and to have experiences. The last time I talked with him, he felt he had done those things."
Mihalakis grew up in the privileged world of the Silicon Valley, where his father, George, is chief executive of a high-tech firm. The family described the soldier as having been a popular, successful student who graduated a year early from Milpitas High School and played lead guitar in a rock band, Stratus, that he organized with friends.
When he joined the National Guard, his parents said, it was to take advantage of benefits that included stipends for his college classes. Only 17 at the time, he had to get his parents' approval to enlist. "The idea of him going to full-time war wasn't on anybody's mind," his mother said. "He thought he would only have to serve in the Guard one weekend a month."
Mihalakis last talked with his parents Christmas Day. At the time, the household was brimming with good news. The soldier's 19-year-old sister, Carly, blind since birth, had just awakened from a coma after being struck by an automobile in Denver in September. "She had severe head trauma," Diana Mihalakis said. "By some miracle two weeks ago, she woke up. It was a ray of sunshine. She was awake, and we had this great triumph, only to have it fall apart when Mike died."
Mihalakis also is survived by his sister Kristine, 23; two grandparents; a great-great-grandmother; six aunts and uncles; and six cousins.