|From Wapakoneta Ohio, Daily News wapakfailynews.com
Wapak grad killed
Tuesday, 22 January 2008
U.S. Army specialist dies from roadside bomb in Iraq
By KAREN CAMPBELL
Sitting in his house on Jackson Street in Wapakoneta, a best friend sorts through old photographs.
The photos from several years ago are of the pair at basic training, snowboarding and just hanging out.
“We both just wanted to get out of Wapak, to see what else was out there,” Tom Karbowiak said of his best friend, Jon Michael “Mike” Schoolcraft III, who was killed while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom on Saturday.
The 26-year-old Schoolcraft, a specialist with the U.S. Army who was assigned to the 1st Batallion, 27th Infantry Regiment, “Wolfhounds,” of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, was killed during a daylight mission when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb near Taji, Iraq, an al-Qaida stronghold approximately 20 miles north of Baghdad.
It was his second tour, and what he hoped would have been his last in the Middle East since he enlisted after graduating from Wapakoneta High School in 2001.
Schoolcraft’s wife, Amber, said her husband thought about making the Army a career, but after marrying her Nov. 17 in Wapakoneta, his dreams changed and he was ready to be a family man, giving his wife stability and his mother the grandchildren of which she dreamed. He planned not to re-enlist a third time in 2009.
Schoolcraft originally enlisted with Karbowiak at the beginning of his senior year of high school. He left for basic training two weeks after high school graduation in May 2001 and was still there when 9/11 happened and his future of joining the military to earn money for college and spend time traveling changed.
“It changed everything,” Karbowiak said of 9/11.
Friends since middle school, Karbowiak said they were quick to bond, both skateboarded and snowboarded, which not many other kids did.
He teased his old buddy, calling him “pretty boy,” because he always had to wait for him to shave and do his hair just to go outside.
Both were stationed in Germany after basic training and served tours in Iraq, but Karbowiak decided not to re-enlist when his time was up. Spending 18 months in Iraq changed his mind about the service.
“He loved it,” Karbowiak said of his friend who had just returned to Iraq for his second tour in early December. “He told me all the time that he loved doing it and that he couldn’t see himself doing anything else.
“He liked being away, seeing the world and trying different things,” he said. “But he was always glad to be home. This is something you never think is going to happen to someone you know. Not to Mike. We talked about it a little, but always said, ‘Man, it ain’t going to happen to us.’ It shouldn’t have been him.”
Schoolcraft is the first Auglaize County resident to die in active duty since U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003. The number of soldiers from Ohio killed is 165. A total of 3,930 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq, of whom, 3,194 were killed in action. More than 28,900 have been wounded, 12,942 of them so seriously that they couldn’t return to duty, according to figures on the Department of Defense Web site.
Mike’s 21-year-old bride said he could not wait to start a family when he got back.
Amber Schoolcraft said it is hard to describe what she felt seeing the military chaplain at her door to give her the news at 11 p.m. Friday.
“They said he was doing everything he was supposed to be doing,” Amber Schoolcraft said. “They were looking for a roadside bomb, but were in a spot where they didn’t think there was one. It went off right underneath him. He died instantly.”
She said Mike was the kind of guy who could put a smile on someone’s face instantly and was always cracking jokes. He put her and his mom first in everything he did.
“He’s a hero, for not only his service, but for the kind of guy he was,” his wife said.
She said the two used to dream about the future together and he had recently told her how happy he was that he found her.
“He was looking forward to growing old together and having children. He wanted so bad to be a father, maybe not the four his mom wanted, but at least two or three,” she said laughing.
“I was so scared of having to face this, of being a 21-year-old widow,” Amber Schoolcraft said. “We tried to decide if we wanted to wait until I graduated from school in May to get married, but he was so worried about me. One of the things he wanted most was for me to know if anything happened to him.
“It’s so hard,” she said. “I have the rest of my life ahead of me, but I don’t know how I’ll ever move on.”
Expected to receive a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his actions and in-line for promotion to sergeant, Amber Schoolcraft said she is just so proud of her husband.
“He saved all those that were with him, but he was just doing what he was trained to do,” his wife said from their home in Mililani, Hawaii. “I loved everything about him, his smile, his eyes, laying next to him at night, him holding me.
“ I’ll just miss everything about him.”
Cindy Schoolcraft-Hooker, Mike’s mom, said her son always made her proud.
As a single mother, he was her little man, killing spiders and working in the yard. On family camping trips with his mom and sister Megan, Mike would start the fires and catch the fish.
During a telephone call the day before he was killed, Schoolcraft and his mom talked about her visiting him in Hawaii during a planned leave in August. She was nervous about making the trip because of her multiple sclerosis.
He could not wait to show her the sights and said he would carry her to the beach if he had to, she said.
“A sergeant called tonight and told me what a positive model he was for the incoming, younger guys,” Schoolcraft-Hooker said. “He took care of people no matter where he was at.
“To know him was to love him,” his mom said. “He touched so many lives all over the world.”
Schoolcraft-Hooker said she was devastated to hear the news from her daughter-in-law and could not believe it was real.
“I kept praying they wouldn’t come to my house,” his mother said of the soldiers expected to arrive Saturday morning at 6 a.m. to give her the news.
“It was his second tour, and I wasn’t as scared,” she said. “He came home the first time to me and I was excited for him to come home this time and start his family.”
She said because of her son’s dedication to never quit something he started, nine other soldiers — dads, husbands and sons — have the opportunity to go home to their families.
“He told me before he left that if something happened to him to remember why he was over there, for the people he loved,” Schoolcraft-Hooker said. “He wanted us to be here and be happy and free.
“He’s seen all kinds of adversity,” Schoolcraft-Hooker said as she started to cry talking about her son‘s requests to send candy and toys to children while he was deployed to Kosovo.
“I had him when I was 16, and he taught me patience, understanding and courage, even then,” she said.
“He went into the military as a young man and grew up in the service,” Schoolcraft-Hooker said. “He was a good soldier. He was my hero as a baby, now everyone in the country can know the hero I saw in my little boy.”
Justin Rogers, a friend of 15 years, described the former class clown as a brother.
“He was the best friend anyone could ever ask for in the world,” Rogers said. “He was just talking about how much he had to look forward to when he came home. I don’t want to believe it, but I’ve got to.”
The two planned to go get tattoos when he got back from Iraq. Rogers plans to get one now in his memory.
John Jenkins said Schoolcraft was one of his first friends when he moved to Wapakoneta 11 years ago. They shared common interests and formed a quick bond.
“I was heartbroken when I heard,” said Jenkins, who was part of a group of four close friends who enlisted in the military after graduating from high school. “Mike and Tom kind of started it all,” Jenkins said. “We all got out, but he stayed in.
“He liked what he did,” he said. “He wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t like it or believe in it. He did it for the right reasons.
“I believe he would do the same thing over again even if he knew the outcome,” Jenkins said. “He was just that kind of guy.
“I’m going to miss him,” he said. “Mike paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Nick Earl, dean of students at Apollo Career Center, described Schoolcraft as a nice, upbeat young man.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Earl said of Schoolcraft, who attended the school’s autobody program when he was a junior and senior in high school.
Schoolcraft’s auto-collision class instructor, Roland McCormick, said he had taken a little extra interest in him because they were both from Wapakoneta and he had known his dad.
“I remember when he said he signed up for the service,” McCormick said. “He said he didn’t want to drive a jeep or work on a truck, he wanted to carry a gun.
“I couldn’t believe the difference in him in that uniform, he really liked the Army,” he said.
As many of McCormick’s former students do, Schoolcraft used to come back and visit with him when he was on leave. The teacher has a standing deal with those who enlist that he will take them out to eat when they are home.
The teacher-student pair shared a couple meals at the Texas Roadhouse, one after a tour in Afghanistan and one after his first tour in Iraq.
“I think it’s pretty special the commitment he made and following through with it,” McCormick said. “He was an ordinary kid who didn’t know which way to go, but followed through with the service and I thought that was quite commendable.
“When you’re with a student four-and-a-half hours every day, you can’t help but become more than student and teacher,” McCormick said. “I haven’t gotten over the news yet.”
Wapakoneta High School Principal Aaron Rex taught Schoolcraft when he was a freshman, and described him as active and excited to be in the classroom.
“He was very outgoing and liked to have fun,” Rex said. “He talked to everybody and always had a smile on his face. That’s what I remember about him.
“To hear news like this, especially in a town where everybody knows each other, is particularly hard,” he said.