Many service members who retire or separate from the military continue to serve their country as Department of Defense employees because they possess specialized training and experiences highly sought after by the federal civilian workforce.
Michael Schnetzer, a former sergeant in the U.S. Army, is one of those service members who transitioned from the military into a federal career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Schnetzer enlisted in the military right after graduating high school in 2001. After graduating basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson, North Carolina, as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, he was assigned to his first permanent duty station with the 1st Brigade, 2-5 Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
During the Iraq war the military began implementing stop-loss and stop-movement orders on many service members. Stop-loss was an involuntary extension of a service member’s service pertaining to their enlistment contract, allowing the military to retain service members past their initial end of term of service date. Stop-movement orders during that time prevented service members from relocating to other military bases known as a Permanent Change of Station.
Both of Schnetzer’s deployments came down on stop-loss and stop-movement orders, preventing him from a PCS to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii and Germany.
Schnetzer met with many challenges during his first deployment in 2004 with the 1st Cavalry Division while stationed at Forward Operating Base War Eagle near Sadr City, Iraq.
“It was early in the U.S. involvement with Iraq, so 90% of the battalion had never deployed except the senior leadership who served in the Gulf War,” Schnetzer said. “Our FOB was attacked daily by mortar rounds and RPGs [rocket propelled grenades].”
At the time Sadr city was one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. Schnetzer recalls losing many of his fellow Soldiers during an attack on April 4, 2004.
“We were involved in a really bad ambush and lost a lot of good guys,” recounted Schnetzer. “Afterwards, a memorial service was held which I attended. When the command sergeant major was doing a roll call and called out the name of those who had fallen there was a dead silence. This was followed by a 21 gun salute and it was one of the hardest things to sit through. After that I refused to attend another memorial service as I’m your stereo typical guy who gets uncomfortable showing sad emotions, so I rather avoid those emotions if I can.”
During his second deployment in September 2006, Schnetzer was more experienced and able to mentor many of the younger Soldiers on their first deployment.
“I shared many stories with the incoming troops as well as adjusting training to meet new requirements. Much of the training from our first deployment was held by NCOs [non-commissioned officers] with Gulf War experience,” said Schnetzer. “Much of the tactics were different with the advancement of technology.”
He enjoyed his second deployment much more than the first.
“The second deployment was a cake walk,” Schnetzer said, “We were stationed at Camp Victory where we had a large PX [post exchange], Burger King, Popeye’s chicken and a large bazaar.”
Soon after returning from his second deployment in 2008, Schnetzer began an internship at the Oahe Dam, North Dakota. After his internship he applied for a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District as a power house mechanic.
Nine years later, Schnetzer is a senior mechanic at Gavins Point, Nebraska, and attributes his success to what he learned in the military “Discipline, Integrity, work ethic and team cohesion,” Schnetzer said. “A hard work ethic along with team cohesion is needed if you desire to excel.”
Every May is National Military Appreciation Month, a declaration introduced by the late Sen. John McCain in 1999. The declaration encourages U.S citizens to honor those who serve or served in the Armed Forces including those who gave their life for freedom.