Maj. Harry Schmidt was a Illinois National Guard airman, a
husband and a father of two; he was an accomplished pilot, known for his cool boldness and
skilled control in the air, which also earned him his nickname and callsign: "Psycho". A
graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, he was eventually invited to the Navy's
version of Top Gun and later invited back as an instructor. He served as a naval aviator and then in the Air Force for some time before he took a more stable position as a planner with the Illinois National Guard at his wife's behest. Scarcely a week after moving to his new home,
however, Schmidt was called up for active duty in the Persian Gulf where he would provide
support for US forces deployed in Afghanistan. You may recall that in mid-April of 2002, 4
troopers of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were killed and 8 others wounded
when American F-16's dropped a 500-lb laser-guided bomb on their position. It was
Schmidt's F-16 that released the bomb. The event prompted a scrutinization of the Air
Force's policy on 'performance-enhancing drugs'.
The US Air Force approved the presciption of Dexedrine to its fighter pilots in 1960 to
help them stay alert during sorties lasting longer than 8 hours. Dexedrine, generically
known as dextroamphetamine sulfate, is a stimulant drug that is sometimes used to treat
ADHD and narcolepsy. Like many stimulants, Dexedrine has a high potential for
addiction and abuse. In fact, it is a very powerful stimulant that, when taken
purposefully, can make the user vigilant and active for many hours beyond the normal span of
a person's of waking hours, which is exactly why the US Air Force had been prescribing
Dexedrine to their fighter pilots since the Vietnam War era.
According to RxList, Dexedrine can cause "psychotic episodes at recommended doses
(rare), overstimulation, restlessness, dizziness, insomnia, euphoria, dyskinesia, dysphoria,
tremor, headache, exacerbation of motor and phonic tics and Tourette's syndrome." WebMD even
warns: "This medication causes dizziness and can affect alertness. Use caution driving or
operating machinery while taking this medication...Although this medication is often
referred to as a stimulant, it is not effective and even dangerous and illegal to use this
to try to improve athletic performance, mental alertness or to stay awake." After returning
from sorties, pilots were then given downers like Ambien and Restoril to help them
sleep. Often, these pilots were then roused with more Dexedrine just 12 hours later to fly
another sortie, as was often the case in the Gulf War. A Top Gun document, entitled "Performance Maintenance During Continuous Flight Operations," reports that "in an anonymous survey among pilots who flew in Desert Storm, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, 60 percent said they used Dexedrine. In units that saw the most frequent combat missions, usage was as high as 96 percent."
Both Maj. Harry Schmidt and his flight leader Maj. William Umbach were on Dexedrine the night of the
incident, April 17, 2002. Schmidt and Umbach were preparing to conclude their patrol in the Khandahar region and begin the return of an 11-hour flight when they spotted lances of light arcing towards them through their night-vision goggles. NVG's offer a distinct advantage in night combat, the ability to see with uncanny lucidity when the rest of the naked world stumbles about with blinders on. But, they can cut down peripheral vision. Exaggerate light. Distort car headlights and shooting stars, turning them into hostile, deadly glares. Harry, to the omniscient AWACS in their sky, a request to reply with 20mm, just a warning, just to buy some time, just like the Rules say.
. "I'm rolling in, in self defense
," Harry says; there's artillery on the road. Bombs away. Boom
"Disengage friendlies." Their radar-mounted god.
Harry: Who was it?
Canadian Special Forces
Harry: Did anybody die?
They had only been in their home 6 weeks. A quiet return home.
"It’s a shitty thing that happened
and a dumb mistake by that pilot.
I hope [he is] hurting now."
- Cpl. Brian Decaire, “A” Company, 3rd Battalion,
Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry
A media leak and the war came home too.
July, 2004: Harry, found guilty of dereliction of duty, fined a month's pay, issued a letter of reprimand.
“Through your arrogance, you undermined one of the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world...
The victims of your callous misbehavior were from one of our staunch allies...
and were your comrades in arms...
shameful...arrogant...lack of flight discipline...rash...
astounded that you portrayed yourself as a victim of the disciplinary process
without expressing heartfelt remorse over the deaths and injuries you caused...
You had the right to remain silent,
but not the right to lie."
Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson
Harry sat at a desk in the copier room doing nothing for the next three months.
“He went to combat and he has never come home,” his wife says. “My husband has never come home, and that is sad.”
April, 2005: Thanks to the support of his wife and pastor, Harry is alive and well again, currently working logistics for National Guard units that are being deployed.
Maj. Willian Umbach received a formal letter of reprimand and retired.