Monday, March 26, 2001

Recruit's buddies here to grieve

Family replays son's last days

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Justin Rich, Michael Schindler and Nicholas Brown visit Micah Schindler's grave.
(Mike Simons photo)
| ZOOM |
        One had gone back to help Micah Schindler, the Ohio Air National Guard recruit who was suffering a fatal heat stroke during basic training. The other was Micah's flight mate.

        Both men — Justin Rich, 20, of Mesquite, Texas, and Nick Brown, 19, of Coventry, R.I. — visited Micah's parents, Michael and Julie Schindler, at their St. Bernard home last week.

        They and the Schindlers cried, laughed, and became angry Saturday as they shared memories of Micah in the military.

        “For five weeks, they were his family. I want to know what he talked about, what he joked about,” Mrs. Schindler said. “It's been a very cathartic thing.”

        The men will depart early this week.

        Interspersed between emotional moments was a large ham dinner, a trip to a shooting range in Adams County, and a visit with Micah's best friend from Roger Bacon High School.

        The Schindlers and their visitors also went to Micah's grave at St. Mary's Cemetery.

        Mr. Brown has been communicating with the Schindlers since Micah died in September 1999, two days after collapsing at the end of a 5.6-mile march at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

        Mr. Rich was with Micah during the “Warrior Week” exercise.

        He knew Micah was in trouble. When his friend seemed unable to make it across a small river, Mr. Rich returned to get him.

        An Air Force autopsy showed Micah died of heat stroke and that water intoxication played a role.

        After an investigation, two officers and three enlistees were reprimanded.

        Mr. Rich didn't contact the Schindlers until July, worried that such contact could wreck his military career. He received an honorable discharge from the Air Force.

        Now, “I am here to help them,” he said. “If I could go back to correct any of this, I would.”

        Mr. Rich arrived from Texas for a one-week stay on Tuesday. Mr. Brown arrived on Friday and will return to Rhode Island today.

        They have been telling the Schindlers everything they learned about Micah during basic training.

        He cared very much for his family, which includes two younger siblings, and liked to talk about music and guitars, they said.

        Micah also was known as a prankster whose jokes kept morale high.

        “He was funny. He'd always make people laugh,” Mr. Brown said.

        The Schindlers need those reminders, said Mr. Schindler, a St. Bernard police sergeant who concedes that the death of his firstborn has been devastating.

        “I don't know how I'm making it through life,” he said.

        “I'm just on automatic pilot. It's just not the same.”

        The Schindlers have sued the federal government because they think the military has been reluctant to punish its own. They said that someone should have to go to jail for their son's death.

        But “nothing will bring Micah back,” Mrs. Schindler said. “There's always going to be that void.”

        Their anger and frustration drivetheir legal pursuits. The visit of Mr. Brown and Mr. Rich provided some relief and more knowledge about what happened during their son's basic training, they said.

        “Hearing it overloads the senses,” Mrs. Schindler said. But, “the reality of it is (that) this was my son. It never really leaves my mind. As painful as it is, I want to know.”


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