Weather team award honors legacy of fallen Airman
By Senior Airman Ryan Conroy , 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 25, 2016
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) -- To honor the legacy and devotion of a fallen brother-in-arms, an award was dedicated to the life of Lt. Col. William Schroeder and given to a Special Operations Weather Team training pipeline graduate here July 21.
Schroeder served as a special operations weather officer and previously commanded the 10th Combat Weather Squadron at Hurlburt Field. He sacrificed his life when he was fatally shot protecting co-workers from a workplace violence incident at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
The events that took place on the day of Schroeder’s death are still under investigation, but Schroeder was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal, given to those who distinguish themselves by a heroic act — usually at the voluntary risk of their lives but not involving combat.
Staff Sgt. Caleb Stewart, a special operations weather team lead instructor assigned to the Special Tactics Training Squadron, sought to dedicate a new award for a SOWT graduate in STTS with Schroeder’s namesake. Daniel Rygiel, Chris Decorte and John Farris, instructors at STTS, generated support for the award and dubbed it “Thor’s Hammer.”
“Bill looked danger in the face when he had an opportunity to run or fight, and we believe this award encapsulates his warrior spirit and moved to dedicate this to him,” Farris said. “The hammer not only represents the destructive power of the storm and fire from heaven but as the protection against the forces of evil and violence.”
The STTS produces mission-ready operators for the Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command by providing a 12-to-15-month program for newly assigned combat controller and SOWT operators to learn advanced skills specific to their career field, prior to being assigned to an operational squadron. After two years, these newly-minted operators will integrate into operational special tactics squadrons.
The award was presented to the SOWT student who best exemplified Schroeder’s warrior spirit by continuously putting others before himself, keeping the team together and striving for mission success, according to Farris.
The first-time recipient of the award, Senior Airman John Campbell, a SOWT assigned to STTS, was nominated by his teammates and validated by the training staff.
“Lt. Col. Schroeder was a man who exemplified himself as being a great father, a great leader and a selfless warrior,” Campbell said. “As I accept this award, I promise to be like Lt. Col. Schroeder in every way I can. He’s a man I will never forget and a man that will never be forgotten in the SOWT community.”
Schroeder’s family was in attendance, including his wife, two children and his parents as special guests.
“The SOWT community was so important to Bill. We know he would be so proud of the new generation of warriors graduating the pipeline today,” said Abby Schroeder, William Schroeder’s widow. “Moving forward from this, this award will be a nice celebration of Bill’s leadership and a testament to future leaders of special tactics students in this squadron.”
Allen Schroeder, William Schroader’s father, deemed “Thor’s Hammer” an honorable and fitting dedication to his son due to his enthusiasm for the special operations weather and love for the grey beret he wore.
“On the day of the interment, there was incredible thunder and lightning and we took that as a display from Bill saying that everything is going to be alright,” he said. “Then, the next day, there was a light drizzle to wash away our pain. He would have loved this.”
The award will be maintained and displayed in the squadron for future students to strive to emulate Schroeder’s qualities, according to Farris.