This summer, when a Greenwood native achieves one of the greatest goals of his military career, he will be carrying his brother’s rank patches and dog tags in his pocket.
Since his younger brother died in 2011, Lt. Col. Todd Schmidt has carried those patches and tags every day. His brother, Trent Schmidt, taught him how to be a better officer, by getting to know the soldiers serving under him.
This July, Todd Schmidt, 42, will become battalion commander of more than 600 soldiers at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Usually the top 10 percent of approximately 10,000 lieutenant colonels in the Army are given the opportunity to command, he said.
At 8 and 5 years old, the Schmidt brothers decided to join the military.
The boys grew up in Greenwood, graduated from Greenwood Community High School and their parents and sister still live in the city.
They took different routes into the Army. Trent Schmidt became a pastor, working in ministry for four years at Triumph Church in Greenwood after he graduated.
He enlisted in the Army after Sept. 11, 2001, and became an Army interrogator, who was known for his skill at questioning villagers in Afghanistan and getting information that saved soldiers’ lives.
Todd Schmidt participated in ROTC while in college, graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and has served as an officer on active duty ever since.
He currently oversees a staff of five, but will soon transition to being responsible for keeping more than 600 soldiers trained and ready to deploy for war at any time, he said.
He’ll have them practicing traveling in convoys of vehicles and using weapons, getting away from desks and training in ways that resemble actual combat.
Todd Schmidt remembers his brother teaching him how important it is as an older officer leading soldiers, often teens fresh out of high school, to get to know the soldiers and not judge them quickly. Trent Schmidt talked openly with his older brother, giving him an inside, honest perspective on what it was like to be an enlisted soldier working under officers.
Todd Schmidt held onto that lesson, and his view of the needs of other people broadened even further when his brother died and he learned what it meant to be overwhelmed with grief. During a visit home in February 2011, Trent Schmidt died from injuries he suffered in a car crash on the southside of Indianapolis.
“When tragedy struck our family, it really made me understand the importance of really getting to know people. It made it that much more important to think about what’s going on behind the face, behind the outer exterior,” Todd Schmidt said.
“My brother and I were very close, so when I lost him, it makes your heart want to scream out to the world, ‘How did this happen?’”
Todd Schmidt had heard about grief and tried to be sympathetic when people suffered, but he didn’t understand pain, such as the loss families struggle with after their soldiers die in combat. Losing his brother taught him empathy, he said.
“Your world is opened up to this whole reality of what grief is and what other families go through,” he said.