Fort McCoy News August 22, 2014

Soldiers find memorial balloons while training

BY SGT. 1ST CLASS ASHLEE LOLKUS
34th Infantry Division

FORT MCCOY, Wis. — Iowa Army National Guard Soldiers conducting field training recently here came upon a number of balloons that seemed a bit out of place in this timbered training environment. Soldiers began collecting the balloons, however, after they read the personal notes attached to them.

Photo for balloons article\
A note attached to a balloon found by Iowa Army National Guard
Soldiers conducting field training at Fort McCoy, Wis. The Soldiers of
the 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery, came upon a number of balloons
dedicated to a child who died in 2008.
Contributed photo

"This balloon is being released 8/2/14 as a sign of our love to our angel Derrick Thomas Schmidt, who earned his wings May 11, 2008," the inscription read. The note also had instructions to whoever found the balloons to contact the Family and inform them of where they finally made their landing.

"Soldiers found 18 balloons that had flown 215 miles, from Belle Plaine, Minn., to Fort McCoy, Wis., over three days' time," said Capt. Jeremy Taylor, chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery, based in Fort Dodge, Iowa. "Soldiers were touched and moved by the Family's gesture, which reminded many Soldiers of their own children."

After hearing about the balloons, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Derek Adams from Burlington, Iowa, gathered Soldiers together to pose for a photograph to send to the Family, along with a letter expressing his thoughts regarding their gesture to honor young Derrick.

"He would have been 18 today," Taylor said. Derrick was 11 years old when he died.

Taylor shared the story with the men and women at the training site. He said they were giving special thought to the Schmidt Family and their own Families, sons and daughters, while away at training.

Taylor said they hope to honor the Family by sending the photo and letter as soon as they return to their main base. The unit conducted its two-week annual training. It is a part of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.