Originally published in 2005 by By George Stuteville, NRECA
He was known for his ready smile and jokes, his insistence that Bon Homme Yankton Electric Association run like clockwork and his fierce loyalty to Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery Unit, South Dakota National Guard.
Such is a tiny part of the legacy of Richard Schild, the long-time business manager at the Tabor, S.D., co-op, who was killed by a roadside bomb on Dec. 4 in Baghdad.
He is believed to be the first electric co-op employee killed in the Iraq war.
Sgt. 1st Class Schild and Staff Sgt. Daniel M. Cuka, 27, of Yankton, died after insurgents detonated two separate improvised explosive devices near their HUMVEEs while they were en route to an Iraqi police station, according to a report from the National Guard.
Three other members of Charlie Battery who lived in the close-knit community near Yankton were injured in the ambush. There was no report on their condition.
The news left the employees at the small co-op devastated, said General Manager Merlin Goehring.“There are tears in our office today,” he said. “Not just the employees, either. This is a small town; everybody knew Rich.”
There also were tears throughout South Dakota co-ops.
Schild’s booming, playful nature, balanced by his serious approach to work, made him a well-known personality in the state’s association of co-op accountants and office managers, said Dena Scott, who manages the statewide office in Pierre.
“He was our go-to person. If he didn’t know the answer, he would get it for you,” Scott said. “He was an outstanding leader in the co-op family, and so dedicated to his own family. In our little office managers’ group, he would know how to make it fun, and still keep on task. He always made a point of wanting to include the new people, make them feel a part of the group.”
Audry Ricketts, general manager for the statewide, recalled Schild as “a colorful individual with a love for life. This young man was one of our future leaders. He was a doer, a teamplayer, a visionary. His sense of humor was a gift we loved in the cooperative family.”
Scott said Schild sent an e-mail to the statewide group Nov. 16. It included a photo of him hitting a golf ball on the grounds of a once-lavish compound used by Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
Schild’s unit, which included a brother, a nephew and friends, some of whom he had known since boyhood, had been given the dangerous assignment to train and evaluate the Iraqi police force in one of the city’s police districts. Iraqi police-training facilities have been especially targeted by insurgents.
Schild, a father of two, had served in the Guard for about 14 years. He knew the risks and spoke openly about them to several co-op friends before his deployment last summer.
Said Goehring: “He was very concerned. He told me that anyone who says he is not scared is lying. He said, ‘You are anxious, and you have it in the back of your mind that it could be your time.’”
Jeff Birkeland, office manager at West Central Electric Co-op, Murdo, said he had known Schild for eight years and always looked forward to Schild’s joking and cutting-up.
But Schild had a serious side - especially when it came to his Guard duties.
“He was just one of those people who was going to go and get the job done, whatever the job, but he was worried about his family during his absence. He spoke about that. Then he said that when you’re sent over, there is the possibility you won’t come home. It took the wind right out of me when he said it,” Birkeland said.
Schild’s death sounded a somber note on the NRECA board meeting in Arlington, Va., where NRECA CEO Glenn English said “the entire electric cooperative family joins with the community of Yankton and the members and employees of Bon Homme Yankton Electric to mourn the loss of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Schild.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of this young man who has made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation,” English said.
Work at the Bon Homme Yankton office, has been tough enough during Schild’s recent absence for active military duty, Goehring said. Now Schild’s permanent absence from a job he had held since April 1994 is unthinkable.
“He was my right-hand man,” Goehring said, adding that Schild had called into the office from Baghdad just a few days before his death. “He was always thinking about us and e-mailing us about what was going on in the office and asking, ‘Did we do this? Did we do that?’”
One of Schild’s last e-mails came in late November - around the 29th, which was his 40th birthday. It was just in time to remind Goehring of how they shared November birthdays and how they celebrated them together.
“It will be very difficult to replace a man like Rich Schild,” said Goehring. “And around here, he will never be forgotten.”