Saturday, February 03, 2007

Collin Schockmel laid to rest

FORT HUACHUCA — The flags began to appear a few miles outside Sierra Vista on Arizona 90, fluttering at half-staff, leading the way to the heart of this military town's pain.

They cut a path to the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery, where teenage soldier Spc. Collin Ryan Schockmel was laid to rest Wednesday, a little more than two weeks after he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in Ramadi, Iraq.

There have been 26 soldiers with connections to Southern Arizona who have been claimed by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this was the second memorial service at the Army post, 75 miles southeast of Tucson, this week.

Schockmel, 19, was born in Texas, but moved to Sierra Vista in 1996 with his mother, Kristin Shinn. He attended Buena High School and was a member of the wrestling team before he moved back to Texas when he was 16.

Family members and friends said he always wanted to be a soldier, and he saw service as a path toward becoming a police officer. On Wednesday, Sierra Vista officials made him an honorary police officer.

"When Collin came into the Army, he was 'hooah.' He was ready," said Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, commander of Fort Huachuca.

And so it was fitting he joined infantry, the most "hooah" type of deployment in the Army, Fast said, referring again to the traditional Army morale chant.

In Iraq, Schockmel handled radio transmissions for his unit, which in turn had the particularly dangerous task of keeping fuel and supply lines safe for other soldiers.

"You all have given up your son, grandson, brother, cousin and nephew to the nation," Fast said to the family during the memorial service at Fort Huachuca's Main Post Chapel. "But there is no greater honor."

Family members and friends remembered Schockmel as a loving, caring, devout man who took an interest in others.

"He was a bright light that was snuffed out way too soon," said Suda Billinger, who was Schockmel's neighbor for four years in Sierra Vista.

When Billinger met Schockmel, he was only 13 years old and had something of a boyhood crush on her. He'd visit her house daily, at times taking her small presents. It was endearing, she said, but what she most remembers is the time he spent with her children, particularly her sons, whom he taught how to wrestle and swim.

"We weren't neighbors; we were family," Billinger said.

A lifelong Episcopalian, Schockmel was an active member in churches in Sierra Vista and Texas, serving as a mentor and often volunteering.

"Collin was deeply spiritual," said his 70-year-old grandmother, Bernadine Schockmel.

Standing at the edge of the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Bernadine Schockmel clutched the hand of one of her sons. Other relatives surrounded her. The wind cut through a nearby mountain range. Although the sky was cloudy, the sun briefly shone brightly.

The last time she and other family members saw Collin Schockmel was Christmastime. He wasn't supposed to go home on leave until August, she said, but his commanding officer owed him a favor and set up a leave for the holidays.

He split the time between Sierra Vista and Texas.

"That was immeasurable," Bernadine Schockmel said of how much the early visit now means.

Asked what she would say or do if she had one more conversation or one more day to spend with her grandson, she paused. Too many thoughts raced through her mind.

"If I could say something to him," she said, choking back tears, "I don't need to say 'I love you' because he knows I love him. What I keep thinking is impossible. I keep thinking, 'Come back.' "

Read the rest at the Star

Related Link:
Collin Schockmel remembered

Related Link:
Collin Schockmel reported killed in Iraq