Where are they now? St. Joe alum, Air Force veteran Doug Bugado is man of many cultures

  • Doug Bulgado is flanked by son Devin and wife Natalie on the right, and daughter Darlene and son-in-law Tyler Hajewski.

Doug Bugado turns 52 years old today, and the 1986 St. Joseph graduate can look back on a life well-lived during his time with the Cardinals and over two decades in the Air Force.

He played basketball and baseball at St. Joseph but was born too late to enjoy the school’s last BIIF Division I title in 1974.

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Still, he savored his time at St. Joseph and the childhood he had before joining the military, which opened his eyes to new places around the world.

In the Curious case of where are they now?, Bugado, 52, is a retired Air Force colonel living on Oahu, where he works as a civilian in his old job, logistics.

His whole family has been surrounded by the military. His wife Natalie’s father was in the military. His father, Harold Bugado, was a B-52 bomber during the Vietnam War.

His daughter, Darlene, is a tanker pilot for the Air Force and her husband is a fighter pilot for the Air Force. Bugado’s son, Devin, is in the ROTC program at UH-Manoa and may get into the military to pilot drones.

Darlene got Lasik surgery to correct her vision, a sign of her dedication and something that reminded Bugado of his parents.

“I wanted to support them the best way possible,” he said. “My dad was the biggest influence in my life. When I got into Boy Scouts, my mom was a den mom, and my dad was a scout master. You have to support your kids so they can achieve what they’re destined to do in life.”

But before a look at his life that took him to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, California and South Carolina, Bugado remembers his time at St. Joseph.

“I grew up as a 13-year student from kindergarten to 12th grade,” he said. “When I graduated, there were 33 kids in our class.”

Like most of the local kids at the time, he went to Waiakea Uka Gym, Andrews Gym and the Hilo Boys and Girls Club playing basketball and other sports. He also got into the Boys Scouts meeting other kids from around the island and building his network while sharing a common interest.

During his senior year, the Cardinals were pretty good after not being competitive for a while.

“For the first time in a long time, we were competitive with Hilo,” he said. “To start the season, Hilo beat us in the first game. They won the regular season but we beat them in the BIIF tourney. We had a playoff for the championship and the top seed going to states.

“We lost that game. But I have a lot of memories. It was a great rivalry.”

After he graduated from St. Joseph, former Mayor Dante Carpenter talked to Bugado’s father about the service academies. Bugado eventually got a letter of recommendation from late Sen. Daniel Akaka.

Basic training was not exactly a breeze. He’d been to the mainland before but it was different with the military, especially pilot training school in 1990 in Oklahoma.

“It was tough, and I was scared,” he said. “But I had a lot of friends who were supportive and the right mindset. You have to know that you’re going to serve the nation and the world and do something bigger than yourself.”

During that time, the movie “Top Gun” was popular, and Bugado wanted to be Tom Cruise. He lasted 10 months in flight school, not completing the full year.

“Everyone wanted to be Tom Cruise, but I knew it wasn’t right for me,” he said. “I found my calling in logistics. Nobody knows what that is. We supply the fuel, transporting people. I found my niche there. I met my wife as well in Southern California.”

Then the couple was stationed in Japan for four years 1995-1998. Devin was born in Japan, and Darlene was already a toddler. One family highlight was climbing Mt. Fuji.

The Air Force served as a traveling agency. The family had a jungle safari in Singapore, visited the Philippines and Thailand. There were Christmas drops where presents, food and supplies were dropped to countries.

Bugado was stationed in St. Louis when 9/11 happened. As a logistics officer, he was in charge of making sure things arrived at the designated destination. Following that, Bugado got his first commanding post in South Carolina as a major. While there, Darlene, as a second-grader, had her essay on military life recognized.

“Charleston was a hidden gem in the United States,” he said. “As a Hilo boy, I preferred the look of a tropical place, but Charleston had a lot of teachers. It never snowed or got that cold. I was deployed there, which is six months.”

He was also deployed to Afghanistan, where the first elections were held in 2009. Then he got a dream job, a station at Pearl Harbor but it wouldn’t last long.

His old boss called about a job assignment in Delaware, but Bugado declined. Two weeks later, his old boss called again, and Bugado took the job. His detail to attention paid off when his base was recognized during an inspection.

“It was a big feather in the cap for the whole team,” he said. “We were at the mortuary location when you see the president salute the service members coming back home. It was a somber mission to honor those who paid the ultimate price.”

Despite the dangerous locations, he was never badly injured, but he experienced a jolt during his deployment in Afghanistan. Right off the plane, bombs were flying down.

“I ran into the bunkers when I heard the explosions. But the enemy didn’t have the type of equipment the U.S. had,” he said. “It was like the Roman candles you had when you were kids. You didn’t know the general direction where they would go.”

Bugado retired in 2014 but not before a memorable time spent in Napa Valley.

“We loved being in wine country,” he said. “We really enjoyed that. That was the biggest one. Who would have thought a Hilo boy could have that?”

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For kids who don’t see a path in life, Bugado noted that the military is always a good place for those who want to see the world and make a difference.

“The military is not just offensive might,” he said. “We do perform humanitarian missions to show that we can be a good country. It’s being a bigger part than just yourself. There’s a chance to see the world. The military gives you that chance to see the world and experience different cultures. It’s not just about being in your neighborhood, but being around the world.”

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