Tuesday, September 14, 1999

St. Bernard man dies in basic training

Airman's family awaits the truth

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Military officials are investigating the death of a St. Bernard man who collapsed from heat stroke during a basic training exercise Friday at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

        Airman Basic Micah Schindler, 18, collapsed Friday afternoon toward the end of the four-hour exercise at the San Antonio base. The exercise takes trainees on a 5.8-mile march over gravel roads and hilly terrain, said Air Force spokeswoman Irene Witt.

        Airman Schindler died Sunday at Wilford Hall Medical Center of complications from heat stroke. An autopsy has been ordered.

        Military officials would not address reports that Airman Schindler was forced to march and was scolded by an instructor for not keeping pace with the other 200 trainees.

Graduation on Friday
        Airman Schindler was scheduled to graduate from the six-week program this Friday. His death was the second at Lackland Air Force Base in five years. The other death was not heat-related.

        Air Force officials say they do not plan to suspend field training exercises as a result of Airman Schindler's death.

        Family members, who flew to San Antonio on Saturday morning, said they think military officials aren't “being up front” with them about information surrounding Airman Schindler's death.

        “They're talking like, "Oh, it was such a surprise that he collapsed,'” said his grandmother, Kay Schindlerof St. Bernard. She said Air Force officials told relatives the only sign of distress her grandson showed prior to the heat stroke was when he threw up after lunch.

Given cold medicine
        “Several (people from the base) told my husband that my grandson had been feeling sick all day, and that he had been forced to participate.”

        Airman Schindler had been prescribed medicine for a cold, the spokeswoman said, though she doesn't know whether he took the medicine before he collapsed. Friday's temperature in San Antonio was 82 at 5 p.m., said Latrice Maxie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Antonio.

        Trainees were carrying an M-16, which weighs about 8 pounds, and a water canteen during the exercise. They were accompanied by medical technicians and stopped seven times for breaks and meals.

        “I guess it (the march) is strenuous,” the spokeswoman said. “It's not your routine walk to the grocery store.” She said the march is one in a series of exercises the trainees do, including physical conditioning such as sit-ups, push- ups and running.

        The march was added to the field training exercise 15 months ago, the spokeswoman said.

        “It's a part of moving airmen to more warrior-spirited products,” she said. “It prepares them for a range of real-world events.”

        At Roger Bacon High School, where Airman Schindler graduated in June, teachers who learned of the incident Monday huddled in disbelief, said American government teacher and public relations coordinator Jim Swedenburg. Several students who knew him talked with counselors at the school, where his sister, Leah, is a junior.

        “He was a real nice kid. Actual ly, he was very quiet in school,” said Mr. Swedenburg, whose class Airman Schindler was in last year. “But he had this underlying wit — this humor — that would surface every now and then.”

        Ryan Budke, 18, who graduated with Airman Schindler, said the two were in band together for three years.

        “He always liked to have fun. He was a real smart-aleck. It was something that defined him as Micah,” said Mr. Budke, of College Hill.

        Airman Schindler was planning to get married.

        Instead, his family is making plans for his funeral, which likely will be at St. Clement Church in St. Bernard. His organs will be donated.

        “All we're asking for is the truth(,” his grandmother said.

        Lackland is the only basic military training base for enlisted people who enter the Air Force, the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. About 35,000 people enter basic training at Lackland each year.

        A memorial service for Airman Schindler will be held today at the Gateway Chapel at Lackland.


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