Interview REVISIT - Lt. Jeff Schuller, Jr. USMC
   
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Marine Corps Emblem

Interview   REVISIT
June 2014

Marine Corps Emblem



"Roll The Bones" by Skakey Graves

Lt. Jeff Schuller, Jr. USMC

Engaging Storms

JS wearing bracelet remembering one of his four fallen MAP 7 Marines, Michael Marzano.
He changes them every Sunday.

 

(Editor's note:  The content to the left in blue is the Silver Star award citation.
The content to the right in black is our story.)

Surmount.

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting

Every awful obstacle humanity can be dealt, Lt. Jeff Schuller seems to have overcome.

the Silver Star to Corporal Jeffrey W. Schuller, Jr., United States Marine Corps Reserve

Not with Hollywood style, he doesn't have a million-dollar smile or tremendous finesse.

for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy

But storm after raging storm are weathered by his humility and humor, down-home sensibility and primarily a respect for divine grace.

while serving as Driver, Weapons Company, Third Battalion, Twenty-Fifth Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, Second Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom

When I wrote about him eight years ago I prayed that would be the last time I'd see him.  Covering Corps Stories Special Assignment on LCpl. Lance Graham gave me a taste of a plane of humanity way above my spiritual capacity, where angels go to hell to keep hell from coming to us. 

on 7 May 2005

I cried for days after meeting Lance's family and the Marines who survived the Haditha Hospital Ambush that killed him and three others.   I cried after meeting Schuller in Quantico a few weeks later.  I cried from then till the day the story ran, Marine Birthday 2006.

Jeff Schuller and Stan Mayer, Quantico, October 2006.  Photo by Meriwether Ball 

While conducting a reinforcement mission

Dozens of feature news stories, interviews and assignments later I have a new perspective.  So does the entire country.

enemy forces ambushed Corporal Schuller's platoon

They are better than the rest of us. The Global War on Terror has united national support for our troops - we know and revere our medal recipients.

using a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device

Congressional Medal of Honor (our highest award) recipients Kyle Carpenter, Dakota Mayer and Jason Dunham are household names. 

rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic weapons

There are only 17 Marine recipients of the Navy Cross - one of which was awarded alongside Schuller's: the Silver Star. His is one of just 77 Marine recipients through the longest war in our entire history.

Instantly, eleven of sixteen Marines were killed or wounded

MAP 7, Haditha Dam, 2005.  Photo by Jeff Schuller

The travels of those Marine's lives and mine are far and wide. Yet in an Internet age via social media they are a part of my daily life. 

and three of four vehicles severely damaged

But not Schuller. He wants more privacy than many - and that is the least he is entitled to.  He is also entitled to find journalists trustworthy.

Finding his vehicle gunner injured, Corporal Schuller manned the damaged turret and placed the M-240G machine gun into action

So when those two ends met and this journalist was allowed to give a 2014 glimpse of "Schullerville", (as Lance's father refers to the lieutenant's unique perspective) thrill ensued. It's not winning a nine-digit lottery, yet not a far second.

Under intense fire, he alternated his fires between enemy positions and suppressed the enemy for nearly 40 minutes

Rain threatened our Elizabeth City, NC rendezvous; him from the south and on two wheels. "Relax. I've got a brand new rear tire and I've done this once or twice before." Right.  

I couldn't relax, I couldn't find my spot despite the most laid-back coffee house atmosphere.  I listened for loud pipes.   Soon the door opened and in walked a third-generation legacy.  "I still have factory pipes, Meriwether," he said with a grin.  Marine, evolved.

enabling his fellow Marines to evacuate casualties and retrieve sensitive gear

He had deployed again in late 2008 for seven months with 2/25 to a much quieter Iraq.  Not that he knew some level of peace awaited.

"Worst flight ever.  Probably one of the hardest things I've ever done."  Sergeants and above were seated in first class from New York to Germany, still not easing his very realistic fears. "I went around taking pictures of everyone."

He earned a Bachelor's degree from Cleveland State in 2010, representing via the wrestling team, having double-majored criminology and sociology and minoring in Middle Eastern studies.

Late in 2010 and early into 2011 he deployed again with 3/25 to Afghanistan, not so quiet that time.  His battalion lost one Marine.  That's one too many, but a lot better than the 48 killed in 2005.

All shared after stirring his press pot coffee with a pocket knife which has accompanied him on three deployments and every season in between, including Officer Candidate School.

Notes and Jeff Schuller's pocket knife, Elizabeth City NC, June 2014.  Photo by MB

Now 34, he is leaner, more engaged, and speaks in quieter tones.  But some things don't change.  The fire in his eyes lit up the way it had over lunch in a little Q-Town restaurant so long ago. 

"We'd all be dead, if it weren't for Kalinowski," he whispered.

Mark Kalinowski and Lance Graham.  Photo courtesy MAP 7 

"Talk about my faith in God? I had blind faith that the ammo'd keep coming."

Holding his position, Corporal Schuller expended ordnance of every type aboard his vehicle

But LCpl. Marcus Kalinowski was never awarded for his actions. 
Brothers from other mothers Schuller and then Cpl. Stanley Mayer - just 10 weeks after the ambush - sent up a perfectly-written package.

Excerpts from the Kalinowski award package submitted by Schuller and Mayer. 

Which was ignored. 

Platoon commander SSgt. Michael Brady wrote three different packages. All of which were ignored.

So of all the things Schuller could focus on, could share, eight years of events to discuss and confide, the storm that continues in his heart, in his mind?  Kalinowski.

Bouncing it out privately to Mayer and Brady late that night I learn it burns in them, too - and not surprised Schuller hadn't let it go.

Mayer interrupted critical labor to write: 

"With regard to an overwhelming blind spot, while backing up the Humvee, Mark from the turret would guide me by voice throughout the tour.

"You're good, you're good, you're good," until you weren't good. Whenever the shock from hitting other vehicles, obstacles, or whathaveyou subdued, Mark would yell down one final time "not so good."

Never failed, every time we'd get hit by that roadside madness the man would slump over like he was dead.

I'd be in the driver's seat punching him in the ass yelling at him to roger up and let me know he was okay.

Half a minute later, usually still enveloped by a cloud of dust and smoke, mark would say "whammy" or "I'm good" or something remarkably lame to come from the lips of a dead guy.

That was this man's indomitable sense of humor. Aggravating as hell, but hilarious.

He didn't know when to stop. I'll say not knowing when to stop was one of his greatest traits as a man.

In May, Mark didn't stop either. One good arm, still in the fight. That's manshit, like no-shit-real-Marine-warrior-shit.

Jeff will tell you, there's no way he could have kept that gun up, no way he could have covered us, no way he could have killed those savages, without Mark.

No Mark, probably no Stan, or any of us, and certainly no Silver Star for Jeffrey, the insurgents would have won the day.

Jeff's appetite to smoke every bad guy on that killing field was fed from below, where a one armed Kalinowski gathered and prepped cans of ammo, inserted fresh magazines into the rifles for Jeff to use as the belt-fed ran dry.

Mark was the one pushing that ammo up, bleeding all over the place, paying no attention to his wounds, keeping that gun up.

Define selfless service above and beyond what is expected.

Define valor.

Maybe I should run a copy of Webster's over to the USMC awards board. They'd be shocked, I'm sure of it.

Mark and Jeff were a team, that's how a machine gun works, it's a team effort.

Unless you're Basilone.

The hero of the day was that team, not one individual.

It's overwhelming to consider the variables. How close we all were to being committed only to the memories of hearts on that day.

I'll venture to say that of all those variables, if it weren't for Mark's inability to know when to stop, I wouldn't be writing about him today."

 

As one of the top ten interviews of my writing career came to a close, the clouds that had parted reappeared. He offered a lot of prayer, kept a few secrets, and tender bear hugs.

He then dismounted and carried his vehicle commander through enemy fire to the casualty collection vehicle and then returned to guide his wounded gunner to safety as well

Clear sky for the first while of his way home.

At the casualty collection vehicle, Corporal Schuller redistributed ammunition and continued to attack enemy positions as he accounted for wounded Marines and sensitive gear.

But then downpours reigned in, ones that exhausted him, and drowned his phone. 

He then mounted the casualty vehicle and continued to engage the enemy from the passenger seat as it traveled through the city back to friendly lines.

He considered stopping for the night.

By his undaunted courage, personal initiative, and complete devotion to duty, Corporal Schuller reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Instead, he pressed on. 

And arrived safely.

END

Not worried about that storm.  JS Elizabeth City NC June 2014


Special thanks to Stan Mayer, Michael Brady - and especially Mark Kalinowski - for thier invaluable contribution to this story. MB