Maj. Gen. Alfred J. Stewart (Air Force)
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Maj. Gen. Alfred Stewart, the former commander of Air Force Personnel Center who two years ago wrote openly about his battle with brain cancer, died Sunday. He was 55.
Stewart died at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph after a short illness, according to an obituary in The Baltimore Sun.
Command of AFPC had passed to Maj. Gen. Peggy Poore in August.
“Life is short and precious,” Stewart wrote in a poignant March 2012 Air Force commentary after learning of his cancer. “If there are things you want to accomplish in life, get busy now. ‘One day’ and ‘someday’ may never come. Push yourself to do more, now. Tomorrow is not promised, so do not waste a day.”
Stewart was born in 1959 in a one-room house in rural Dinwiddie County, Va., the son of a working single mother who checked his homework each night, kept books in the house and attended parent-teacher meetings, Stewart said in Air Force video in December 2011. His life changed at age 16 when an Air Force Academy recruiter showed up at his high school in Baltimore, where his mother moved the family for a better job.
Stewart graduated from the academy in 1981 and went on to become a mobility pilot, flying the KC-135 Stratotanker and the C-17, among others. He logged more than 3,000 flying hours, according to his Air Force biography.
Throughout his career, Stewart commanded an air refueling squadron, an operations group and a flying training wing. He flew air refueling missions in support of the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada in 1983 and deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Saudi Arabia during the Iran and Iraq war in 1985. He also deployed as Combined Air Operations Center director of Mobility Forces in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In August 2010, Stewart took over as commander of Air Force Personnel Center, where he oversaw 10 subordinate units and more than 3,600 personnel responsible for operations of airmen and their family members. It was there that he began experiencing vertigo, headaches and other “cognitive challenges,” he wrote in his 2012 commentary.
“I went to see the flight surgeon and was immediately referred to a neurologist,” he wrote. “An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor ... and the doctor bluntly told me, ‘Your life will never be the same.’ I was literally stunned.”
Five days later, the tumor was successfully removed during surgery. But the prognosis was dire, Stewart wrote. “Malignant grown from stage IV of the worst form of brain cancer.”
A few weeks later, while undergoing six-week radiation and chemotherapy, Stewart returned to full-time Air Force duty. The side effects doctors told the the commander to expect — fatigue, nausea and lack of energy — never came, he wrote.
“This is a tough, unexpected fight and it is not over,” Stewart continued. “I’ve cleared a few hurdles but the fight is still on.”
Stewart is survived by his wife, Areetha, whom he married in 2008, and three grown children: Bryan Vincent Stewart, John Calvin Stewart II and Kalota Gurley, according to his obituary.
Stewart and his first wife, Pauline, divorced in 2006 in Texas after 22 years of marriage, court records show.
Stewart is also survived by his mother, Sandra Stewart, a stepmother and four sisters.