Cadet who collapsed was living a life-long dream


By TOM ROEDER - THE GAZETTE

The father of an Air Force Academy cadet who collapsed after a physical fitness test said his son died in pursuit of a lifelong dream.

Edward Schmeltz, 18, took his first flight lessons at 12 and flew solo at 16. He dreamed of attending the academy and taking wing for his country, his father, James Schmeltz, said Tuesday from the family’s home in Chatham, N.J.

“He was not just determined, but infectious. Everyone he met just loved him,” Schmeltz said of his son, whose death remained under investigation Tuesday. “We have a town here of 20,000 people that’s crushed right now.”

The El Paso County Coroner’s Office completed an autopsy on Edward Schmeltz on Tuesday, but officials said results from tests to determine what caused his death could take weeks.

A separate Air Force investigation of the death is under way, said Lt. Col. Laurent Fox, an academy spokesman.

Schmeltz had completed a fitness test that included sit-ups, push-ups and a 600-yard run when he collapsed Monday. Efforts to revive him failed, and the cadet was pronounced dead at the academy hospital.

James Schmeltz said his son was a two-sport athlete in high school who was quarterback and captain of the football team last year. He had spoken to his son Sunday, and the cadet’s most serious complaints involved homesickness.

Fox said that before admittance to the academy, cadets undergo a complete physical. He said the death came as a shock to the academy’s 4,000 cadets, some of whom sought help from chaplains and grief counselors Tuesday.

“It’s a tragic event,” Fox said.

Edward Schmeltz was struggling through a tough freshman year at the academy but was more than holding his own, his father said. In a class of 1,100, the cadet ranked 87th in military prowess and 278th in academics.

“I used to tell him he was the best kid that walked the face of the earth in the last 2,000 years,” James Schmeltz said.

The academy lowered its flags to half-staff Tuesday to mark the death. Services, including a candlelight vigil for his classmates, are being planned.

“He was the best son anyone ever had,” James Schmeltz said.

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