Iowa reservist has seen a lot during time in U.S. military
Newton Daily News, Iowa
NEWTON, Iowa — Sitting legs crossed on his covered porch on Newton’s southeast side, his MacBook Pro open and idle on an end table, Drew Schumann is paying attention to detail. He takes a quick digression from discussing his upcoming assignment as a logistics officer for the U.S. Army Reserves to watch the two humming birds quickly dart around one another.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” he said. “Wow … See them up there? They’re doing a little dance.
“I’m a weird kind of guy, a really weird kind of guy,” he said earlier. “… I’m a weird cat now, I got in (to the military) in a weird way.”
Schumann’s job is in the details. For the past three and a half years, the Lt. Colonel has been living and working in the Army’s Atmospherics program in Afghanistan. He and his four-person team comprised of Croatian-American geographer/photographer, an American knowledgeable about Muslim woman’s issues and a Harvard educated Afghani gather non-classified civilian and governance information. They report on the country’s infrastructure issues, gather rumors that could become dangerous rhetoric used against coalition soldiers and try to educate non-locals.
“We would ‘kidnap’ an ISAF or U.S. service member and show them what a wonderful place most of Afghanistan is,” he said.
Due to congressional rules only permitting a finite number of reservist commanders active at a given time, Schumann’s capacity in the war-torn country has been labeled “military contractor.” Friday, the Lt. Colonel returned to drill as a reservist for the first time in four years but does not know if he will be redeployed. Spending 15 months in Iraq just months after the initial 2002 invasion and boasting a 29-year military career, Schumann’s strong opinions are evident. One detail he constantly observes is the stronger his civilian friends’ thoughts on service are the farther they are divorced from the conflict.
“I love Afghanistan,” Schumann said. “I enjoyed my time there. I missed my wife and my kids horribly, but that’s the one thing that hurts a little actually when people ask, ‘Are you going to have to go back?’ If I could and not be away from my family, I would voluntarily. I’m still there in my work.
“I live and work with Afghans,” he continued. “As you can tell, we’re outside the wire. No uniforms, no body armor, we’re pretty much naked. There were a couple of things that I was doing, but what I did the most was actually try to see the conflict through the eyes of Afghans and see if there are places where we were causing problems. We being, of course, ISAF and the U.S. Army. Which, we do a lot.”
Schumann has been a commissioned officer in the Iowa National Guard and, more recently, the U.S. Army Reserves for nearly 30 years.
Formerly a reconnaissance and later an intelligence officer, the Varina native enlisted in the Guard in 1983 and was place in the 194th field artillery division out of Storm Lake. Shortly after he left his northwest Iowa home for Iowa State University where he joined the Army ROTC and became a commissioned officer.
He applied for active duty and was stationed in Germany from 1987-1991 on the Berlin Wall. Schumann was on the wall as the Soviet Union fell, but not before a chance meeting while studying in Russian in 1985 introduced him to an Iowa native whom he would eventually marry.
“I met my wife Ellen, this is an important part of the story, in the Soviet Union. She was a tourist from Marshalltown of all places,” he said. “My life’s been a small world.”
He and his wife were there to witness former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise to power.
“I got to see behind the veil, so when a guy says something that’s not true I can say, ‘No, that’s not true. Here’s what actually happened because I got to see that,’” he said. “I’ve either always been in the right place at the right time, like in the Berlin Wall, or I was in the Corps. Headquarters in Iraq where I got to see all these things. I wasn’t so high ranking that I was insulated from facts. I’ve been very fortunate in my career, very Forrest Gump-ish. Like the whole Gorbechov takeover, well I was there. I wasn’t there for very long. It was just a winter quarter. I have a little bit of distance.”
Schumann said that he’s been privileged with information in his career with inside information, but blessed with not holding a high enough rank to suffer repercussions for some of the more controversial acts of both post-9/11 wars. Schumann says he loves his work, but is critical of the military in many regards including assignment of duties.
Schumann was present for the incidents at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, where U.S. Soldiers were pictured with a naked pile of insurgent detainees and were accused of human rights violations. Schumann was a major during the incident, and the accused unit was to report information to him. Schumann’s job was to brief the press and the generals on developments. He claims that the outrageous behavior for the Abu Ghraib personnel went beyond just the prison.
“I got my ass chewed every day for just reporting the news,” he said. “Honestly, I heard all this stuff about how it was put up by the CIA. I saw the disks that the photos were on, and they were doing that stuff to themselves before they did it to those guys. The same kind of naked dog piles, forced sex with some of the unit members. There’s evidence of non-compliance. But I don’t think it was CIA. There were just a couple of guys there that were thugs, who I met.”
Schumann also worked in Chicago in the late 1990s as an interrogator, also doing personnel overhauls for Pizza Hut franchises on the side.
“I just can’t do anything the easy way,” he said of his dual life as an interrogator and Pizza Hut “fixer.” But a 1998 car accident which caused severe memory loss forced Schumann out of both his jobs and he came to Newton where he managed to get transferred from the National Guard to the 3rd COSCOM Army Reserve Unit based in Des Moines. During his recovery, he also delivered pizzas part-time for the Newton Pizza Hut.
“I worked 100 hour weeks (while in Chicago),” he said. “When you fire people, who’s going to work? You are. It’s a sucky job to specialize in, but I was pretty good at it until I had by brains rearranged for me. Basically I had my entire personality reprogrammed. I lost my memory, my ability to cogitate. Which I’ve gained back, but it took a good five years. The only people I knew who had a big heart were some people here in Newton, so I came back here.”
Between his service in Iraq and his 2009 deployment to Afghanistan, Schumann said he “bummed around the country,” getting an aviation certificate he worked on military aircraft eventually getting a position in Germany. Schumann finally moved his family back stateside so his two children could finish high school in Iowa.”
But in 2009, Schumann took a job with the U.S. State Department on the Poppy Eradication Force. For six months, he would combat the most lucrative trade for the Taliban and insurgency forces in Afghanistan.
But his reasons for getting in, Schumann admits, might shock some civilians.
“I wanted to know what it was like. Because I felt embarrassed that everybody around me had been in fire fights,” he said. “The war had been going on for eight years and I had yet to actually be in a fire fight. And a buddy of mine said, ‘You want to get in a fire fight? Come work with us.’ I went there to see what it was like, and I saw what it was like every day, twice a day for six months. I enjoyed it a lot.”
But that’s also the reason he quit. March 11, 2009, an IED killed five of his Afghan friends. Schumann said that his vehicle had sat on the device the entire day, and when his Afghan security detail moved their vehicle over the hidden explosive it detonated, destroying the vehicle and “vaporizing,” as Schumann put it, the machine and his friends.
“I started looking for another job about then,” he said. “Partly because gun fights are too fun, and partly because they’re fun until you realize you’re not the only one who can die from them.”
In June of that year, he began his current job with his team of four. This allowed Schumann to put his master’s degree in international relations to use and gave him an unconventional way to fight the war. He currently is developing a Wikki cataloging the data his team gained while in country for active-duty military to use as a resource.
“Between the four of us we were an incredible team. I don’t think there’s anything else like us before or after. I don’t want to sound egotistical, but I just don’t see anyone else around us doing the same thing.”
But he also blogs about his experiences. On his website hotmilkforbreakfast.wordpress.com, Schumann journals the details he gathered in narrative form.
“Yesterday, friend Zok sent me the initial reports, which I kind of blew off, because I was just too busy. I am now sorry I did that. You see, Zok pointed out that the casualties of the latest Taliban/Haqqani/Subhuman Filth attack were kids in the ISAF HQ area, and I just didn’t process that, completely. When I saw the Skatestan article, my heart sunk out of the bottom of my chest. A growing ball of ice has replaced it. I knew every one of these kids, and so did everyone with me.”
The blog post continues talking about three of the children killed in the attack. Schumann describes a young boy named Nawab who declared himself Schumann’s personal bodyguard in 2009. The post also includes the story of the “sharp kid and hustler” Mohammad with his Texas Longhorns cap. Schumann wrote that he had “the best chance of making it.”
It was incidents like these that caused Schumann to sometimes detach himself from the conflict. At times it’s a necessity for the 49-year-old, but he also knows it’s not fair to the people who suffered around him to not consider himself part of the war effort. “In fact, the whole reason I called you guys is because my wife chewed my ass for pretending like I’m not part of the war,” he said. “It spares me, but they don’t get any credit for having suffered. I’ve spent years away from them the last 10 years. About half the last 10 years I’ve spent away from them. They want a little bit of credit for that.”