by Dennis Dalman
Right after Thomas Schramel graduated from Sartell High School in 1985, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, planning to serve for four years, then go to college.
And that is just what he did, but little did he know at the time he would go on to serve his country in the Air Force until Nov. 1 of this year. Col. Schramel, 52, will officially retire from the service on that day after nearly three decades in the Air Force.
“I always wanted to be around airplanes,” said Schramel in a telephone interview from his home in Yorktown, Virginia. “That is why I enlisted in the Air Force. That, and the educational benefits were a good thing, too.”
After his four years of military service, true to his plans he enrolled in Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. where he earned a degree in criminal justice, but he soon realized how much he missed his Air Force work and joined up again with the rank of second lieutenant. Since then, he has been promoted to first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel and colonel.
Schramel’s first military occupational specialty was as a radio/radar repairman, but he went on to acquire a vast number of educational accomplishments and military roles: to name just some, Master of Liberal Arts degree, squadron officer school, air-war college, avionics technician, flight commander, assistant professor of aerospace studies, maintenance supervisor and commander of the 35th Maintenance Group at Misawa Air Base in Japan. That assignment was his last before moving to Virginia before announcing his retirement.
Schramel served wartime duties in Iraq (twice) and in Afghanistan. He was also stationed in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
He has been honored with a dozen awards and decorations, including the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with seven oak-leaf clusters, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with Bronze Star, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal and multiple medals for his services in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Born at St. Cloud Hospital, Schramel grew up in Sartell, the son of Marvin and Maxine Schramel, who now live, retired in Vergas (near Detroit Lakes). His siblings are Joe, who still lives in Sartell by the “old” Coborn’s store; Kathy Sauer of Rice; Amy Gottwalt of St. Cloud and Paul of Detroit Lakes.
Schramel said his favorite memories of Sartell revolve around mostly sports and hunting. He loved playing football on the Sartell Sabres team for the late, great coach Dean Taylor.
“I learned a lot of life lessons from Coach Taylor,” he said. “He was a great man.”
Schramel was also – and still is – an avid hunter.
“I attended Sartell Elementary School (now the District Services Center) and all my school years were in Sartell, right up through high school,” he said. “That was a nice way to grow up. What I don’t miss are the Minnesota winters.”
Schramel has revisited Sartell about six times since leaving in the mid-1980s, the last visit being about six years ago. He is aware, through the family grapevine, of the boom-town changes that took place in Sartell during the past few decades. However, he plans to see those changes soon during a trip to the city as part of his retirement plans.
Schramel and his wife, Janet, have two children: daughter Burke, who is a junior at Florida State University; and son Max, a senior at Grafton High School in Yorktown.
Janet has her own at-home business. She coordinates home-restoration projects between owners and contractors after homes have been repossessed by banks. She and Thomas met on a blind date in Oklahoma.
“I proposed,” said Schramel, “and fortunately she said yes.”
A military career often necessitates all kinds of moves from place to place, base to base. Schramel said that, yes, it can be trying on families, but that in some ways it can strengthen children because they learn to become emotionally flexible and rapidly adaptable to new and ever-changing places and people. His daughter, he noted as an example, adapted very quickly to her college life in Florida, despite twinges of lonesomeness. The children also learned a lot about other cultures, especially during the time their father was stationed in Japan.
Schramel said the most rewarding times in the U.S. Air Force were his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“That’s when I realized all the training I had previously can help our whole nation’s security,” he said. “It’s war time, and it’s all real. That’s what I was paid and trained to do – launching combat air power to protect the service people there. Those times were the most difficult but also the most rewarding.”
On Nov. 1, his retirement date, Schramel intends to celebrate by going out to dinner. Then he’s going to get to work once again, seeking a job as a defense contractor.