Why I Serve: Soldier Spends 14 Years With Same Unit
By Spc. Matthew McLaughlin, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 9, 2005 In the "here today, deployed tomorrow" world of Fort Drum, N.Y., home of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, there are a few unchanging facts of life: the winters are unbearably cold, deployment tempo is high, and "Sergeant Shu" is with 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.
Army Sgt. 1st Class David J. Schumacher is a platoon sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment. Schumacher has served with the same battalion for 14 years and has been on every 2-14 Infantry deployment since the unit was reactivated in 1985. Photo by Spc. Matthew McLaughlin, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Since enlisting in April 1991, Sgt. 1st Class David J. Schumacher, a platoon sergeant with B Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, has been with the "Golden Dragons," one of the most deployed battalions in one of the most deployed divisions. In fact, the last time 2-14 Infantry deployed without Schumacher was to Vietnam in 1967.
"The fact that he's been in 2-14 for 14 years, that's an oddity," said Sgt. Todd Stoner, another member of the unit. "That just doesn't happen."
Schumacher, an Easton, Pa., native, arrived at Fort Drum in April 1991 as part of a cohort unit, meaning a majority of his company from basic training was stationed together at Fort Drum. The years passed, and soldiers came and went, but Schumacher remained, even after all his fellow cohort soldiers left.
"A lot of them got out around the same time," Schumacher said. "I made a lot of great friends. I kind of had to make whole new friends."
The 10th Mountain Division's history of deployments, a history Schumacher was part of, initially prevented Schumacher from moving to a new duty station.
His first deployment was a humanitarian mission to aid Floridians after Hurricane Andrew in 1991. He returned for a stabilization period only to deploy again in 1992 to Haiti. He deployed again in 1993 to Somalia, where 2-14 Infantry soldiers aided Rangers under assault in the battle made famous by the movie "Blackhawk Down." His fourth deployment in four years, another trip to Haiti, sealed the deal for him. He was a Golden Dragon for life.
"If we're not the most deployed unit in the Army, we're close," he said. "The water doesn't get stale around here."
The Army traditionally has tried not to move soldiers to a new duty station within a year of a completed deployment. "It seemed like every time it came time to move, stabilization came up," Schumacher said.
Eventually family life deterred Schumacher from seeking reassignment. His wife, Robin Whitmore, is from Brownville, N.Y. They married in 1993 and have two children, Michael and David. After seven years without a change of duty station, the Schumachers bought a house in Brownville in 1998. Regardless of any future change of duty station, Schumacher said he probably will retire there.
"I felt it was a real comfortable place," he said. "I would like to remain at Fort Drum. Who knows what's on the horizon?"
More deployments were on the horizon for Schumacher after Somalia. He deployed to Bosnia in 1997 and Kosovo in 2001. He then deployed to Iraq in March 2003 and again in June 2004.
His experience with 2-14 Infantry has made him a living historian for younger soldiers and those new to the unit, he said. "Lots of people preparing for the boards come up to me and say 'What year were we in Haiti?'" Schumacher said.
He said many people have told him experiencing only one duty station would hinder his career. He disagrees, crediting his multiple deployments with 2-14 Infantry as a strong reason why he will be promoted to master sergeant in April. "Being deployed to so many theaters, ... I have so much experience now," Schumacher said. "I saw all of it."
His knowledge of combat situations isn't the only wisdom he shares with his soldiers, Schumacher said. Living at Fort Drum for so long has made him a sort of North Country sage. "I can tell them which hunting and fishing spots to go to, which bars to go to and stay away from, where not to buy a car," he said.
As a platoon sergeant in Iraq, Schumacher's experience continues to benefit him. Soldiers often ask him how his present deployment measures up to previous deployments. "Sometimes a soldier will say 'Hey, Sergeant Schu, does that remind you of Somalia?'" he said. "I said, 'Yeah that (rocket-propelled grenade) was kind of heartwarming.'"
Of all his deployments, Schumacher said this has been the hardest. He and B Company spent most of the summer quelling insurgency in Sadr City, formerly a highly volatile area in Baghdad. B Company lost five soldiers, more than any company in 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Despite the hardships, Schumacher re-enlisted indefinitely in November. He pointed out that several soldiers from his company reenlisted during this deployment.
"As rough as we've had it ... we had five, maybe six, re-enlistments," he said. "That says something for what we're doing over here."
Schumacher deployed more times as a part of his unit than any 2-14 Infantry soldier. He has spent more time in Iraq in the last two years than with his family and loved ones. Why does he do it? "I can't see myself doing anything else," he said. "The things I get to do as a platoon sergeant you can't find in any other job. Who else besides a soldier would understand it?"
(Army Spc. Matthew McLaughlin is assigned to the 10th Mountain Division.)