May 20 marks the 11th anniversary of the death of Air Force First Lieutenant Roslyn L. Schulte. She was killed by a roadside bomb while traveling to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. She was only 25 and was the first female graduate of the Air Force Academy to die in combat.
Her death has had a profound effect on me over the years. I met her briefly the day before she was killed, and did not know her name until after she died.
In 2008, I was mobilized to Camp Mike Spann near Mazār-i-Sharīf in northern Afghanistan for a period of 15 months. I was assigned to the base as a Navy reservist and my mission was to be a combat adviser to the Afghanistan National Army. I was also the senior enlisted leader for the Navy personnel on base.
One of my jobs was to assign personnel to augment our security forces when it was necessary to leave the base for missions. Due to my position and seniority, I was not required to go out on missions. I decided from the start that it would not be right to assign others for tasks that I would not do myself, so I routinely assigned myself to the three types of duties in a convoy: driver, gunner, and truck commander.
On May 19, 2009, the security forces had a mission to convoy to the nearby German Air Base and return. The mission was critical as it was the way we received supplies and provided air transportation. I decided to put my name in as truck commander of the 10-ton utility vehicle. The truck commander is the eyes and ears for the driver. The commander also is responsible for operating all the electronic gear.
Although I had served as a gunner on a previous mission, I chose to go out again for a personal reason. My wedding anniversary was May 20 and the German Air Base had a nice exchange, so I thought I could get a lovely gift for my wife, Cindy.
The process of a convoy is fairly simple: You show up at a designated spot on base and are briefed on threat assessments and proper procedures in the event of an emergency. Since my base was small, and due to my position, I knew most of the personnel. When I got to the staging point, I noticed three unfamiliar faces. I was curious why they were on the base so I went over and started a conversation with them. One of the people was Lt. Schulte. Our conversation was brief, and I don’t think I learned her name.
The next day, a civilian contractor who I worked with reported that a contractor from his company and someone from the Air Force were killed by a bomb on a road I had traveled several times. He did not know any more details. Two days later, I was watching CNN and I saw Lt. Schulte’s face and immediately recognized her as being on my convoy two days before.
I found out she was visiting my base’s Intel department, so I went to one of my roommates. He told me he had eaten dinner with her the day before she was killed. This hit me hard so I started to research her life. Lt. Schulte was from St. Louis, and was raised Jewish. She had graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2006 and was in Afghanistan for three months before her death.
The chance meeting with her reminded me how precious life is and that we should cherish every encounter we have with people as important.
This Memorial Day, I will remember Lt. Schulte. I will also remember lieutenants Frank Toner and Florence Choe, two shipmates who were killed on my base in March 2009.
Post 77 of the Jewish War Veterans in Washington, D.C., is named after Lt. Schulte and Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal, US Coast Guard, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
Jeffrey Blonder, Massachusetts Commander for the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, is a retired Senior Chief in the Navy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.