Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Airman's death spurs changes

Report sees errors in training

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Air Force is changing training procedures following the Sept. 12 death of a St. Bernard man who collapsed during basic training in San Antonio, Texas, the Air Force said Tuesday.

        Pre-existing medical conditions and too much water likely contributed to the death of Airman Basic Micah Schindler, according to the Air Force.

        According to a report released Tuesday in Texas, an autopsy showed Airman Schindler, 18, died from heat stroke, complicated by overhydration and low blood sodium. He died two days after he became sick near the end of a 5.8-mile field march at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

        Air Force officials, however, acknowledged that training instructors who were on the march did not recognize the symptoms of Airman Schindler's heat illness and that military officials were not fully aware of his medical condition, which included upper respiratory symptoms and possible sinus inflammation/infection.

        These were “missed opportunities to intervene,” said Gen. Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton, commander of Air Education and Training Command.

        “This investigation found that our process was not fully adequate, and changes are being made to improve safety controls,” said Gen. Newton.

        Mike Schindler of St. Ber nard, Micah's father, said information from the report confirmed many of the family's suspicions. “We believe that there was wrongdoing and these people should be held accountable,” he said.

        “We miss him so bad, and this is so devastating to our family and friends. No matter what comes out of this ... it's still not going to change the fact that we're devastated. I just don't know how we're going to get over this loss.”

        Air Force officials say they have changed or are changing training procedures in the wake of Airman Schindler's death.

        One significant change has pushed the start of the march, formerly at 2 p.m., to 8 a.m., when the weather is cooler. Other changes include:

        • Increased instruction about heat-related illness symptoms and the risks of overhydration.

        • Better procedures to help training instructors and medical personnel monitor the medical status of trainees.

        • Increased efforts to encourage trainees to identify personal or fellow trainee problems.

        • Automatic removal of trainees from field exercises for certain medical symptoms.

        Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, has asked federal officials to conduct a thorough investigation into the death of Airman Schindler.

        “I think the important thing is we get to the bottom of this so some parents in the future don't have to endure another tragedy like this,” Mr. Chabot said. “They have a right to know why their son died.”

        “We're determined to help the family in their effort to get to the bottom of this terrible tragedy.”

        Airman Schindler's grandmother, Kay Schindler, said about 20 family members gathered Tuesday at Airman Schindler's parents' house in St. Bernard for support and to listen as military officials explained the report.

        “The fact that someone from the Air Force said this should never have happened — that was very satisfying and helpful for us,” said Mrs. Schin dler of St. Bernard. “(But) it doesn't take the pain away.”

        A second investigation, which could last 30 days, will determine whether military officials were liable and whether any punishment should be handed down.

        Lackland is the only basic military training base for enlisted people who enter the Air Force, the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. About 35,000 people enter basic training at Lackland each year.

        Reporter Paul Barton contributed to this report.


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