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Commentary: Whatever it takes

By Master Sgt. Tyrona Lawson | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | April 9, 2018

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — This morning as I donned my uniform and ran through the day ahead in my mind, I went over tasks that needed to be accomplished, to include writing this article. I took meat out of the refrigerator to cook for dinner tonight and entered reminders in my cell phone to pick up items from the cleaners and stop by the post office to mail a letter. 

I sat on my bench to put on my boots, and I wondered if my morning routine was parallel to an Airman we now identify as a hero. I thought about how he must have completed similar task; laced up his boots, put on his crisp uniform top, and placed a well-sculpted beret on his head. 

I wondered what the day ahead for the former commander may have looked like. How could he have known that his list of tasks for the day would also include; saving lives and making the ultimate sacrifice?

Two years ago, April 8, 2016, Lt. Col. William “Bill” Schroeder, a special operations weather officer and former 342nd Training Squadron commander, lost his life during a struggle with a gunman. Sensing the danger to come, Schroeder placed himself between the armed individual and the squadron first sergeant before ordering her and surrounding squadron members to run to safety. 

His decision to take such actions saved lives as well as sealed his fate. I can’t help but think in those crucial moments, he was aware of this.

Last week, I attended the annual “Monster Mash” fitness competition and remembrance ceremony hosted by the 350th Battlefield Airmen Training Squadron. The event, which boasted participants from throughout JBSA, included a 1-mile log march and the unveiling of a memorial in honor of Lt. Col. Schroeder.

Attending the mash was initially a source to gather some quotes from attendees about the day and what it meant to participate in such an event, but as I sat on the bleachers and took in the ambiance of greatness, gratefulness, service, and sacrifice, my mind and writing agenda quickly swerved into a different direction.
 
I started to think about what it really took to make the ultimate sacrifice and who you needed to be, to do so.

I have to admit, although I thought this was an easy question to answer, I found myself pondering the concept over the weekend and, to my surprise, a 10 minute deep-thought session wrestling with the idea of: who, when, why and could I?

Even as I am writing now, I am not sure I have the correct answers, but I do have a thought or two.
As military members, we often think of our heroes being birthed from great conflicts or wars; they have acted bravely in the face of adversity, against an enemy from a far.  We rarely take into consideration a hero is sitting right next to us in the office, or turning wrenches to fix equipment. How could we ever consider a hero is helping to prepare food at the dining facility or filling a prescription at the pharmacy?

It is not until the moment an unfortunate event happens, and a split second of reaction occurs, we are able to pinpoint heroes; walking, talking, living and serving right amongst us. In that split second, how is the decision made to do whatever it takes, to include sacrificing yourself, for the well-being of another? 

It is easy to assume that those charged to protect and serve, have this “hero gene” inside of them. It is instilled in them. They train day-in and day-out for a time they may have to make a life or death decision. There is no hesitation or second guessing for them.

I don’t believe this to be true. 

Sacrifice is not something you can train for, no one can prepare you for this feat. I would like to think, sacrifice is instilled through a continued growth of personal characteristics and values; both ethical and spiritual. I also believe it is a continued growth, belief and practice of the core values we have built on from day one of enlistment; integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.

It is through all these attributes that a hero and a decision to make the ultimate sacrifice is only a split-second thought. It is adrenaline, laced with a heightened awareness to protect. It is pure heart, the mind plays no role.

I didn’t personally know Lt. Col. William “Bill” Schroeder, so I can’t speak first hand to what drove him to act in the face of adversity that fateful day, but from the words spoken at the ceremony held last week, I would say it was his unit, his family, his values, his leadership and heart. 

Lt. Col. Schroeder in a sense already had his own notion as to what was needed to be considered a hero.  The answer had always been with him, located in his office on a plaque that adorned his wall…
 
Whatever it takes.