Born and raised in La Porte, and having lived here all his life, Sergeant First Class Damon Schroeder knew early on that he wanted to pursue a career in the armed forces. When he was 17, SFC Schroeder signed on with the La Porte National Guard. Due to his young age his father’s signature was required in order for him to join. He soon acquired that and, in 1993, he enlisted.
“I did what they call a split option,” SFC Schroeder said. “Since I was still in high school I completed my basic training in the summer between my junior and senior year. My time in basic and the start of the school year overlapped by a few days so my Drill Sergeant, during my final days of training, made up for the time I’d be missing. I was definitely happy to get through it!”
Schroeder said he originally intended to join the Marine Corps., but his father knew that most likely meant the sacrifice of a college degree and he wasn’t willing to bargain with that. Since enlisting, Schroeder has acquired an Associate’s and a Bachelor’s Degree from Purdue University North Central.
“Part of the reason I enlisted was to broaden my perspective,” Schroeder said. “ I was attracted to the sense of adventure and by my nature I’m protective of things. I’ve always looked at a soldier as a sign of strength and commitment to the way we live and that was very appealing to me.”
Schroeder’s career has taken him around the world. One of his first assignments was at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Soon after he was off to Germany where, ironically, his father had also served. Since then he’s been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan where he was an anomaly of sorts. His Battalion has been reorganized several times over the years and in his 21 years he’s never been reassigned, which is almost unheard of. On deployment Schroeder was a sort of jack of all trades. He worked to examine buildings and infrastructure, operated heavy equipment, and even worked among construction crews and hammer swingers.
Before becoming the newly formed B-776 Brigade Engineering Battalion within the 76th Infantry Division in September, his unit was the 1613 Engineering Support Company. “That was primarily horizontal construction -- earth moving,” Schroeder said. “We secured areas around hospitals and police stations whereas B Company is a Combat Engineering Company and are more akin to infantry than earth movers. We make sure our people can get to where they need to go and we keep bad guys from getting to where they shouldn’t be.”
“Mentally it’s been a strange trip,” Schroeder continued. “It’s been different than any pre-conceived notions that I went in with. From my service over the years I’ve pulled out a very strong commitment to those around me. I really wanted to do all I could to help the greater good and to better the country. It’s hard to see things faltering here. In war torn countries I’ve seen people fighting over bread and knowing all the opportunities we have here that people throw away is tough. It’s opened my eyes to a lot of things.”
“To me, Memorial Day is a day to remember, respect and honor those who served before me and those who have served and passed on,” said Schroeder. “It reminds me to be grateful for the strong people in this country. To the ones who have served and the ones who will serve.”
To celebrate Memorial Day, Schroeder will be gathering with his family and visiting the graves of relatives and friends who have passed to honor those who sacrificed everything.