Iraq War vet finds relief with baseball

Staff photos by Fritz Busch Springfield Iraq War veteran Staff Sgt. Dan Schroeder was awarded the Purple Heart after an exploding landmine seriously injured his legs in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF 1) in 2003. He said he finds his involvement with baseball as a “soothing” remedy for his wartime disability.

“I’ve always been a big baseball fan since my grandmother took me to a Chicago Cubs game when I was about 10,” said Dan Schroeder, looking out over the Riverside Park ball field being prepared for a game on a warm, summer afternoon.

Growing up in Stillwater, Oklahoma, his grandmother often talked to Schroeder about the Cubs, her favorite team. She talked him into following baseball and collecting baseball cards.

Now, you may find Schroeder umping a baseball game in the area. You may find him at a game as a fan too.

Schroeder, who was wounded in the Iraq War in 2003 while serving in the U.S. Army, says he finds healing in the game.

After a friend told him about the Wounded Warrior Umpire Academy several years ago, Schroeder attended his first umpire camp in 2019. The academy, supported by professional umpires as a way to give back to military veterans, was established in 2014 to provide instruction, training, placement and peer support for military veterans interested in baseball.

Dan Schroeder sports a Wounded Warrior Umpire Academy shirt and ball cap at the Riverside Park ball park in Springfield.

Active duty or recovering disabled veterans struggling physically or mentally are invited to apply for the camp free of charge.

If accepted, the academy provides airfare, lodging, and most meals at camp. Sponsorships pay for most of the camp activities. All equipment, uniforms, and materials needed to become an umpire are provided.

Requirements for wheelchair lifts and ADA compliant vehicles are available.

At the academy, Schroeder lived and breathed all aspects of baseball, umpiring for 10 days with professional umpires in Daytona Beach, Fla.

He served in the U.S. Army as a mechanic from 1995 to 2004. His tours included Macedonia, Kuwait, Germany, Korea, and Iraq, where he earned a Purple Heart (U.S. military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving).

Schroeder keeps a Chicago Cubs jersey among his baseball memorabilia. It has been his favorite team because it was his grandmother’s favorite.

Schroeder described what happened on Sept. 18, 2003. Tracks (metal belts) and other parts were blown off a tank and a mine hit a fighting vehicle. Dan was called upon to repair or salvage the damage.

“We took on fire from Iraqis on motorcycles with AKs (AK-47 assault rifles). They were criss-crossing the street, shooting at us and driving off on the western border of Iraq,” Schroeder said.

“I thought this really stinks because I was in an unarmored Humvee with a soft top. We put sandbags in the floor and metal plates in the doors,” said Schroeder. “Then a RPG (rocket propelled grenade) was shot over top of my Humvee and exploded in a bank behind it. I was going back to the front of my Humvee when I heard a metallic click, the fuse on a mine. A large blast knocked me off my feet. It felt like somebody hit me across the back of the legs with a leather strap.

“I didn’t even realize I was hurt. My adrenaline was pumping. I felt my legs hurting, slapped the back of my legs and blood everywhere,” said Schroeder. “Sometime about then, I’m pretty sure I had a seizure.”

Schroeder said everyone in his battalion made it back home alive except one guy who was shot in the back of the head, killing him while turning in his gear at the end of six months in OIF 1 in Kuwait.

Dan Schroeder earned a Purple Heart while serving in the Iraq War.

Schroeder is in his senior year, studying electrical engineering at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has a summer internship with Xcel Energy.

His wife, Nikki Lyle of Springfield, said she enjoys seeing Dan meet other veterans and share their military stories.

Schroeder’s father served in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam. His grandfather received a Purple Heart for his wartime service in Korea. Dan’s oldest brother was an Air Force power production specialist. His youngest brother was an Army M1 tank mechanic.

For more information including how to donate to the Wounded Warrior Umpire Academy, visit woundedwarriorua.org


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