JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
Starting out as dots on the horizon, five Airmen glided under parachutes, through the crisp morning sky toward a landing zone, banking sharply as their boots planted on the grassy field beneath at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Medina Base Annex April 7.
It’s a common sight here, where Airmen training for special operations careers dive out of planes on a weekly basis. But this landing was anything but routine. Hundreds of Airmen, families and onlookers gathered at a ceremony to remember Lt. Col. William Schroeder, a longtime special operations ace and former commander of the 342nd Training Squadron who was killed while defending a member of his staff from a gunman in 2016.
The sixth and last Airman – transported by an American flag parachute and streaming a second American flag below his harness – touched down behind first five. Shortly after, the crowd watched as widow Abby Schroeder and the couple’s two young sons approached the drop zone to nail down a plaque bearing her husband’s name.
“This past year has been tough on our family,” said Abby, who used most of her brief speech to thank the dozens of Airmen and officials who supported her family through a year’s worth of grief and recovery. “Thanks to all of you, we have survived.”
Col. Roy Collins, 37th Training Wing commander, embraced Abby after she spoke.
“We’re here to remember as a wing, as a family, and as Airmen,” Collins said. “We remember Bill as a son, husband, father, friend, wingman, commander, a battlefield Airman, and a warrior.”
Col. Ronald Stenger, Battlefield Airman Training Group commander, said he is honored to carry on Schroeder’s legacy.
“Schroeder died … courageously defending members of his command,” Stenger said. “It’s important that we never forget that Bill’s immediate, aggressive, and selfless response reflects the very essence of what warriors aspire to be.”
Schroeder’s decision to fight the gunman ended up saving the life of a non-commissioned officer, according to official reports.
Commissioned as second lieutenant in 1999, Schroeder served in the Air Force’s special operations command at Hurlburt Air Force Base, Fla., and oversaw the Tactical Air Control Party school’s transition to San Antonio, Texas in 2015. As part of the 24th Special Operations Wing, Schroeder also led the Air Force’s only combat weather squadron from June 2013 to May 2014.
Stenger noted his group plans to honor Schroeder every year with a remembrance memorial.
“As long as we continue to remember him, to speak his name and honor his legacy,” Stenger added, “we can keep from really losing him.”