Air Force 1st Lt. David Schmitz of the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base was identified by the base Facebook page as the pilot killed in the crash of an F-16CM Fighting Falcon late Tuesday night.
Schmitz “loved a lot of things,” Col. Larry Sullivan, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing, said in a message posted on the base Facebook page. “He loved his family. He loved his country. And he loved to fly.”
“Last night, we lost one of our very best, Lt. David Schmitz,” Sullivan said. “He died conducting a training sortie in South Carolina as his squadron, the 77th ‘Gamblers,’ is preparing to deploy overseas for combat operations.”
Schmitz “got his pilot’s license when he was 17 years old,” Sullivan said. “He enlisted in the United States Air Force and served with distinction as a load master on a C-17, supporting some of our nation’s most sensitive missions. And he never gave up on his lifelong goal of flying for the United States Air Force as a pilot.”
Schmitz received his commission through Officer Training School, Sullivan said.
“He graduated in the top of his class in pilot training and he earned a spot in F-16s and here at the 77th,” said Sullivan. “Our condolences go out to the Schmitz family. To the Gamblers and to all of Team Shaw. "
In a post on her Facebook page, Schmitz’ wife, Valerie Schmitz, said she wished “I could wake up from this nightmare.
“We kissed goodbye just like we do every time he leaves for work,” she wrote, adding that Schmitz then asked Toby, the family dog, for a kiss “and Toby gently licked his cheek. I watched Dave walk down the hall in his flight suit, open the front door, and leave. This time he looked back over his shoulder at me and smiled one last time before he shut the door. I didn’t know that would be the last time I’d see my husband alive.”
Sometime after midnight, Valerie woke up to Toby barking loudly at the doorbell ringing.
“I was so confused,” she wrote. “Why is Dave ringing the doorbell? I opened the door and in front of me I see members of his squadron and a chaplain. My heart sank to my stomach. The looks on their faces said it all. I was informed that there was an accident and unfortunately Dave did not make it.
“In an instant,” she wrote, “my life had changed forever and my heart shattered into a million pieces. A few hours later I kissed my sweet husband one last time on his cold lips.
“Hold your loved ones close,” she wrote. “You never know when it might just be the last time you’ll see them. Your life can change forever in an instant.
“I love you so much, Dave, I always will.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.