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Vermont Quarterly

Jack Schmidt ’75

Jack Schmidt speaking at UVM


Jack Schmidt ’75

Decades of Service: UVM Rescue to U.S. Army

In the fall of 1972, Jack Schmidt was a sophomore in search of something that would, among other things, turn around what he recalls as a lackluster academic performance on his part. Not one to shy from a challenge, he decided to join what might have been the least-liked campus organization during the Vietnam War era: UVM ROTC.  

The bold move gave Schmidt exactly what he sought—direction and passion. And it also launched what would turn into a thirty-eight-year military career, primarily as a medivac helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. He completed two tours in Iraq and one each in Bosnia and Afghanistan that involved flying high-ranking officials around the Middle East, including Gen. David Petraeus while commander of the U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

Schmidt credits ROTC, which included an intensive summer boot camp in Fort Knox, Kentucky, with teaching him discipline and a task-based approach to school that he also applied to his other college passion, UVM Rescue.

Schmidt was among a circle of intrepid undergrads, including Paula Cope ’75 G’83, Stacey Lazarus ‘75, Alan King ‘74, Jim Lanning ‘75, Bob Kuech ’75, Jim Hasson ’76 and the late Mike Heffernan ’76, who were integral to getting the student-run rescue squad off the ground.

“I remember walking over to the old infirmary to ask about a new rescue squad we’d heard was starting up,” recalls Schmidt, who spoke at the October dedication ceremony of the new UVM Rescue facility. “A guy walked around his desk and said, ‘So you’re going to start the ambulance service?’ I said, ‘No, I’m here to find it about it.’ He said ‘No, that’s what you are going to do.’ I said ‘OK, what do I do?’”

Schmidt shelved his summer 1971 plan to work at the New England Aquarium in Boston and jumped at the opportunity in Burlington. In the early days, UVM Rescue worked mostly at athletic events, concerts, and other campus events. But the original crew members had bigger plans, with Schmidt helping lead with wisdom gleaned from ROTC.

“There was a lot of overlap between my experience with ROTC and UVM Rescue in terms of how they were doing training at the time,” he says. “ROTC had a task-based standard, so I applied it to UVM Rescue by breaking down every job into tasks leading to successful completion. I was a psych major focusing on training and development, so I really liked that aspect of it.”

The training, coupled with upgrades to equipment and the addition of the first modular ambulance in the State of Vermont, resulted in the nation’s first 24-7 college ambulance service run entirely by students. “Jack absolutely was the catalyst for the idea,” says Cope. “He was the one who fought the battles. He was very dedicated. When Dr. (E.L.) Amidon (M.D. ’32) felt that Jack had made the case, he went to battle for it and got the $1 (student) fee and supported it.”  

After graduation, Schmidt became a medical service corps officer back at Fort Knox, where he taught EMT classes to combat medics in his battalion. He arranged for them to ride along with police officers from the City of Louisville to provide medical support. From there he went to flight school and pursued his dream of becoming a helicopter pilot, which he did on active duty and in the reserves.

Piloting top military and government leaders from the United States and other nations, Schmidty received tokens of appreciation from many officials over the years. One of the most memorable came from the finance minister of Iraq. “He pulls out two pieces of paper from his brief case written in Arabic and says, ‘These are the most valuable pieces of paper in Iraq,’” recalls Schmidt. “They were official ballots for the election that put the first Democratic Constitution in Iraq into place. I thought that was pretty cool to have the ballot to ratify their first Constitution. I really enjoyed my time in the service.”

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