This past week, the nation lost another hero. 1LT Roslyn Schulte was Killed in Action on May 20, 2009.
Soldiers’ Angels (www.SoldiersAngels.org) has a support team called the Ladies of Liberty (www.SoldiersAngelsLadiesofLiberty.com) and it has been our honor to support Ros during her deployment in Afghanistan. As the Director for this team, it was hard for me to annouce that we had lost 1LT Roslyn Schulte. She was one of ours… a very special woman…taken from us too soon.
I received an email from her comrade, classmate and friend Jennifer Young- she wants to share with the world… who Ros was- as a human– not just an officer in the United States Air Force.
Dear Ladies of Liberty,
I am deployed to Iraq right now and I wrote this letter after the loss of my classmate and friend, 1Lt Roslyn Schulte. I wrote it to my family, friends, and loved ones, for her and for the people who love her. A friend of mine suggested that I submit this to you because of the wonderful posts she has seen in Roslyn’s honor on your webpage. Please let me know if you would not mind sharing this in her honor.
1Lt Roslyn Schulte, USAFA ’06, was killed on Wednesday. Roslyn was an intel officer, serving in an incredibly cool job in Afghanistan. Her convoy was driving down a frequently traveled road, and her vehicle drove over an IED that was buried under the ground, partially covered with asphalt, and detonated by someone who was watching and waiting to take American lives.
That man does not know what he has stolen from us. The enormity of this grief seems ill-contained by words… cheapened, even. But words are all I have, and this is my lament.
Roslyn was truly special, the sort of woman who had everything going for her. She was something of a celebrity at the Academy, phenomenally successful by all of their standards. She was envied by more than a few people, not only for everything she had succeeded at, but for her strength, and for the success that you could sense was in her future. I admit that when I was a younger and more foolish girl, I occasionally felt a flash of jealousy that could only exist from a distance, the sort that perished up close in the warmth of her personality. She was so smart and attractive, and so good at everything she did, and so incredibly self-possessed and poised besides… and back when some of us were too young to see something admirable and admire it (instead of feeling threatened), that was a little scary.
She had the sort of beauty that could have been pulled from Elizabethan portraiture, with a quiet dignity in her bearing that could have been called regal if I didn’t suspect the military would want me to find a different word. But when I think of her, my first thought isn’t of the woman who looked so sharp in uniform (though she always, always did)… I see her in a cute T-shirt and jeans, relaxed and smiling among friends. I’m not sure where I’m pulling that particular memory from; I think a get-together during intel school, or something. What I’m trying to say is that she stood for everything you would have wanted in a cadet, and then in an officer, and always in a friend… and the heartbroken praise that you will read about her, written by friends and coworkers and former teachers and her loved ones, more than attests to that.
But in the wake of tragedy, no one talks about the human side of the person who has been taken from us. The luxury of having someone speak bluntly of you belongs to the living. Roslyn was human, too. She was a woman who had fallen in love and made mistakes and was finding her own way towards happiness and trying to figure it all out, like all of us. And she never gets to be that again. For that, too, my heart aches. My faith tells me that she is in a much better place, away from these surly bonds of earth. Our friend Shane remarked that she had lived so well in her time on earth, "I’d be happy to leave at 25 with a guaranteed pass to Heaven like she had. You and I, we’ve got a few things to make up for first."
And even though I know she is in a better place, her journey with us on earth was far too short. I never realized what a blessing I would see in the pain and frustration of life, how lucky I am to still be here to make mistakes; I have a strange sense of appreciation for the things I would otherwise complain about, because I am still here to experience them, and Roslyn never will again.
My intel girlfriends and I have felt a particular chill, realizing that this woman who had so much in common with us has been taken from this world. At least four of us who were in intel school when Roslyn was are deployed right now. Every one of us has said, "It could have been us," because it very well could have been. And every one of us has also thought, to some degree, that there’s no good reason why we were sitting in an air-conditioned room in front of our computers on the day that she was killed. We have read every report of the accident that we can get our hands on. We all want to know the truth, even though it has been very hard to read.
Every one of us wishes there was something we could have done to prevent it, or something we could do now to avenge it. I have been struggling not to let the anger I have felt create the kind of evil in my heart that would make me no better than our enemy. It has not been easy, but I believe that Roslyn want us to carry on a good fight for her, not a poisoned one.
My friend Christine — a USAFA ’05 grad who had been in Roslyn’s cadet squadron and had worked closely with her when we were cadets, and also an intel officer — is serving in Afghanistan right now. She told me that three days ago she had to drive on the road where Roslyn died. Christine’s convoy passed by the site where Roslyn’s vehicle was hit by the IED. Blood and oil are still all over the road.
Christine made sure to call her dad the night before she left, and again when she had made it safely to her destination. I have read that Roslyn called her parents two or three times a week — far more than most of us do, out here. There is some comfort in knowing that, for me. Roslyn’s death is a reminder to all of us to never miss a chance to say "I love you" or "You are important to me" — with words and with what we do. And still, it is so much more.
I feel flashes of confusion at signs that the rest of the world has gone on turning… that not everyone has stopped to honor the loss of this beautiful woman and all that she stood for. I feel guilty for my own moments of happiness, when I forget the somber mourning that sits patiently in my heart, waiting for me to remember that the world does not quite make sense right now. Sometimes I find a way to look at it that quiets the outcry I feel… but like it’s written in sand, a wave of fresh shock washes the fragile logic away.
I literally could not understand that her death was not front-page news in every newspaper. I could not understand how her life could end without the nation stopping to honor her. I could not understand how the President could address the graduating class of Annapolis and talk about American Idol, but not call Roslyn Schulte out by name to her brothers and sisters in arms.
Roslyn and I were friends, but we weren’t terribly close… a couple classes together, working on the same convention as cadets, always hellos in passing, and lots of shared friends. Some of my friends were very close to her. Just as people who see me see but do not feel my sadness today, I realize that I cannot feel the pain that these friends are going through. And as broken as their hearts are, none of us can comprehend the hole that has been ripped into her family’s lives. I can try to imagine it, but just as I could not imagine the grief I feel now, I cannot draw the outlines of their sadness.
The cost of these wars that we fight now cannot be measured in numbers. There is no measurement that will account for every day in this fight that takes more men and women from the people who love them, for this indefinable grief that is left behind when they are killed… And as high as this cost is, we can’t stop fighting these wars, because we fight an enemy who wants to bring their hatred to our homeland. Every man and woman whose blood has been spilled in this fight has kept this evil at bay, and we cannot let their passing be in vain.
The way Roslyn left us is undeniably a tragedy, but we must not forget that it was much more than that. She willingly laid down her life for every one of us still living. We could have been there, in that car, but she was there for all of us. She was a quiet warrior, and left us with a warrior’s death that very few Americans, or Academy graduates, or intel officers, or women, will ever know. A friend of mine here, a woman who served in the Army, told me, "Don’t think for a second that she was not happy or ready to go… I say this because I was a soldier: what an honor to go as she did."
The Air Force Academy did not exactly give us a mechanism for dealing with the grief of combat loss, mostly because we Zoomies encounter it so seldom. I have been told that West Point and Annapolis graduates have historically been better prepared because their long lines have been broken more often, by many wars and different dangers. But the Zoo produces zipper-suited sun gods, and the warrior’s death that was glorified to us while we were there was that of an aviator — and while pilots once faced terrible peril, they seem far safer these days than the men and women on the ground.
Our rituals, such as they were, were always geared to remember those who had gone before us in a bygone era, or to mourn those who were lost in more "civilian" ways. But this modern way of war is not easily understood, anymore, and although I do not feel spiritually prepared to deal with this, I am turning to what I have.
We learned a poem by heart when we were freshmen (or four-degrees, smacks, plebes, or doolies, depending on your dialect). The words I’ve found online don’t match the ones I remember, and the ones I remember are the ones I am going to share:
We toast our faithful comrades, now fallen from the sky
And gently caught by God’s own hand to be with him on high.
To dwell among the soaring clouds they knew so well before
From dawn patrol to victory roll at heaven’s very door.
And as we fly among them there, we’re sure to hear their plea:
"Take care, my friend; watch your six, and do one more roll, just for me."
Roslyn, this is my toast to you. The world needs to know who you were and what you stood for. We — your classmates, your fellow intelligence professionals, your comrades in arms, and those who loved you — we will not let your death be in vain. You have reminded us never to waste a second.
Now it is up to us to carry on and do what you cannot in everything we do, and to teach those who come after you to do the same. We will take this and make it our strength. Our friend Kevin said it best: "The few of us were going to take over the world anyways. The plan hasn’t changed."
Love, and one more roll…
Female Air Force Academy graduate dies in Afghanistan
(CNN) — The U.S. Air Force Academy is mourning its first female graduate to be killed by enemy forces in Afghanistan or Iraq.
First Lt. Roslyn L. Schulte, 25, died Wednesday near Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered in a roadside bomb attack.
She was an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations officer assigned to the 613th Air and Space Operations Center, the Air Force said Friday in a news release.
Schulte was deployed to Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. She was traveling in a convoy to Bagram Airfield to participate in an intelligence sharing conference.
"Losing Lt. Schulte has been a tragedy felt by everyone here and across the Air Force," said Col. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, 613th AOC commander. "Our deepest sympathies and prayers are with the family of this heroic airman."
Schulte’s fellow airmen "will be forever proud of her," he added.
Schulte graduated from the academy in 2006. She is the 10th graduate to die in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the academy said.
Schulte’s parents live in St. Louis, Missouri. She also had a brother.
Her father told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his daughter was a natural leader who was teaching Afghan forces how to handle military intelligence.
"She knew how to talk to chiefs of staff, to generals, to privates, and they listened," Robert Schulte told the paper. "And that’s what we needed, a great leader of people."