Note: Bill Cooper and I met in the winter of 1984 when we were both assigned to Headquarters, Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. I was being re-assigned against my wishes to be a command intelligence briefer under the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, and Bill was coming in to take my place as the Soviet Navy analyst for the 544th Intelligence Analysis Squadron, 544th Strategic Intelligence Wing. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, and he is my brother from another mother. He shared this story with me a few years ago, and this year, he put it in writing, so I asked if I could share it for this upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and he agreed.
Remembering Brad and sometimes still wondering why my plane broke and I was not sitting next to him as planned when he died in that C-5 crash at Ramstein… Ours is not to reason why… He really understood that.
Capt. Bradley R. Schuldt, USAF
7th AD, Ramstein AB, Germany
Desert Shield, Aug. 28, 1990
Shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990, Brad received orders to go to Riyadh and serve as a public affairs officer. Brad was a wonderful young man with a big smile and a bigger heart. Moreover, he had a faith in God that was unshakable and that is the most important part of this story: You see, when Brad received notice that he had orders to Riyadh, he was really excited. I was, too. If there was going to be a conflict, we wanted to be there!
A day or so after receiving notice that he was headed to Saudi Arabia, Brad's mood had changed and he came to see me, our buddies, Captain Greg Templeman and Captain Jody Lebrenz and then the 7th Air Division Commander, Brigadier General Ken Hagemann. I'll never forget the moment that he told me, Greg and Jody that an angel of the Lord had visited him in the middle of the night and told him that he would not return to Ramstein AB. We looked at each other and back at him and responded like only guys do. We asked him if he had been drinking, what he ate before bed, etc. In our ignorance, we exclaimed that "Public Affairs guys don't get killed!" After we ribbed him pretty good for about half of the day, it became apparent, even to to us, that Brad was sincere. We came to understand that he had, indeed, been visited by an angel of the Lord who told him that he would not return. Over the next day or two, Brad was offered the opportunity to forgo the assignment and have someone else assigned. His reply still echoes in my head, "No, this is God's plan."
I had also received orders to leave immediately and set up intelligence shop at Moron AB, Spain. I also traveled to Bahrain, Qatar, and Egypt and was on my way back to Ramstein AB to redeploy to Riyadh with Brad. As fate would have it, my plane broke at Moron AB and I was delayed in my return to Ramstein AB. Brad and 12 others were killed when their C-5 aircraft crashed on take-off. He died in the arms of our dear friend and next door neighbor, Jennifer Bandy, who was a nurse at nearby Landstuhl Army Medical Center. It has always been a comfort to me that someone as sweet and beautiful as Jennifer held him as he died. What courage and faith it took to face his death. And yet, Brad knew where he was going.
As Dee fielded calls from friends and co-workers, who did not know that I had not yet made it back to get on that C-5, I returned to Ramstein AB and surveyed the burned field at the end of the runway where Brad and the 12 others had perished. The chapel was packed for the memorial service and, among the crowd, were literally hundreds of kids who had been part of Brad's youth group at the Protestant chapel. They loved him. During the service, Dee and I and Brigadier General Hagemann and his wife Jean all held hands on the verge of tears. When we sang the hymn, "Here I Am Lord," the dam burst and we all just sobbed. To this day that hymn still makes me tear up.
As we exited the chapel, Brigadier General Hagemann turned to me and said, "You don't have to go. We can find someone else." "No," I replied, "It's my job and Brad knew it, too." The general looked at Dee, and she said, "This is what he signed up for…" She's a trooper. The next day, the general handed me my orders and Captain Greg Templeman gave me a ride to Frankfurt to catch a flight to Greece and then on to Bahrain. Seems like a lifetime ago...
In the years since that time, I have strived to be more like Brad and to develop that connection that he had not only with those around him, but with our Creator.
I came home. Many did not. Please take time to remember them.
God Bless America and all those who serve her!