Blackhawk Soaring

Michael Stockinger

Having to soar through the air in a $14 million Blackhawk helicopter one day looking for lost hikers or downed airplanes in the Sierra Nevada, transporting the injured to local hospitals, ferrying aircrafts from coast to coast and making it to class the following day may seem unreal to many students, but for Thomas Schroeder, a 29-year-old Electrical Engineering student at Sac State, this is life.

“I am a Blackhawk pilot for a medivac unit with the California Army National Guard,” said Schroeder. Schroeder explained his job is about aiding the injured and that the aircraft used to transport victims does not have any weapons on it. “We will pick them up at the point of injury and fly them back to the nearest hospital as quick as possible,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder looks much younger than his age and doesn’t wear his uniform to school, making him blend in easily with the other students around.

A person would never know by looking at him how he spends his time out of school. Schroeder breaks the stereotype of the military ?” he is relaxed and very quick to laugh and joke.Schroeder says that much of what his job is with his unit, the 126 Medical Unit?”Air Ambulance, is search and rescue, medical and firefighting.

“Two years ago when there were fires in southern California, I was down there for two weeks,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder’s unit also searched for survivors of an airplane crash in Mount Shasta this summer.”There was an airplane crash up there and we went up to look for it,” Schroeder said. “We ended up finding the airplane, but the impact didn’t look survivable and if it doesn’t look like someone could survive we will deem it not necessary to risk our own safety.”

Schroeder, who will graduate this semester, has attended Sac State since 2000 when he returned from his tour of duty with the U.S. Marines.

“I grew up in Carmichael and when I was 18 I joined the Marine Corp for five years,” Schroeder said. “I wanted to get out of Carmichael and see the country. I lived in Japan for two years. I went to Russia and lived on the east coast for a while.”

“One of the biggest things I learned is how great Sacramento is. So, I came back and started going to school,” Schroeder said recalling his time away.

Schroeder then went to school for a year and then decided he wanted to go to flight school, which he attended for a year and a half, receiving his Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics.He is now working on his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and his senior project.”My group is working on a project that measures stress through electrical signals produced by the brain,” Schroeder said. “We hope to use it to help and measure the stress of whoever wears it.””I have to spend a lot of time on campus and in the library trying to finish this,” Schroeder said.According to Jeff Weston, a veteran affairs coordinator at the Sac State Veterans Affairs office, there are many Sac State students who are involved in some form of military duty.

“Right now, for this semester, the number is at 608,” said Weston. “That number grows daily as people continue to come in.”

According to Weston, there are 317 students who are in active duty and 82 who are reservists, meaning they can be called at any time.

Schroeder, for the last two years, has been balancing school and his work like many students. But one or the other has had to be put on hold at times.

“Balance is a perfect word for it. I balance between my senior project team and the unit,” Schroeder said. “I’m always putting school or my unit off and being cut off from my friends.”

“My grades have suffered due to this job,” Schroeder said. “I think this is a great school. I’d like to come back for an advanced degree.”

Schroeder, who is not married and is not in a committed relationship, says he gets plenty of attention while he’s in uniform.

“In uniform we get more attention from people,” Schroeder said. “When we are next to our aircraft people get very interested in us.”

To cope with the stress of his job Schroeder does plenty of running along the Sacramento River.”There is a lot of stress with my job, because we have to know airspace requirements which take a lot of time along with schoolwork,” Schroeder said.

“To get rid of this stress I used to do a lot of mountain biking,” Schroeder said between laughs. “I tried golfing. I was terrible at it, gave it up.”

“What I love to do is run on the river bike path,” Schroeder said. “When I run, the stress from my job vanishes.”

Schroeder says he is fulfilling a childhood dream by flying helicopters.”I was on the ground in the Marines,” Schroeder said. “It was hard, so I decided to do something better.”

“I saw an aircraft fly by and decided that was better.”

Schroeder now leaves Sacramento flying from Mather Field twice a week. Best of all, his command supports his education, which they also pay for.

Schroeder says that this is the best college job that anyone could have.

“I think the best thing about my job is talking with people when we are at air shows or schools telling them about our jobs,” Schroeder said with a smile. “Telling people what we do is the best part of it.”

“I will continue doing this job for as long as they will let me.”

Schroeder says that most exciting thing that has happened while on duty was when he was ferrying an aircraft that had a fuel leak from Oklahoma to Los Angeles.

“We had to land halfway through in Ashfork, Ariz, which has a population of 432, in a motel parking lot,” Schroeder laughed. “We did a hasty repair of the aircraft and I think the whole town population came out for that. We were celebrities that day.”

Michael Stockinger can be reached at [email protected]