It could take a lifetime for some travelers to see Albania, Turkey, Italy, Belgium, Sweden and Finland. For Erik Schuh, it took eight months.
A captain in the U.S. Air Force, Erik was assigned to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Kosovo Force (KFOR) headquarters at Camp Film City in the capital of Pristina, Kosovo.
Kosovo is a self-declared independent country in the Balkans region of Europe. NATO has been leading a peace-support operation in Kosovo since June 1999 in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the area.
The headquarters oversees the operations of two NATO battle groups in Kosovo. Erik’s branch is J5, specializing in strategic plans and policy. He worked directly for a German colonel and daily with officers from numerous NATO and European countries including Greece, Turkey, Germany, Austria, Finland, Sweden and many others.
The J5 branch was responsible for future NATO multinational troop manning at the two battle groups. “I would ask questions like, ‘How many units do you have? How many troops do you want for next year?’” Erik said when asked to explain his duties.
“The whole reason you join the military is that you want to give back,” he added. “Going on deployment is the fulfillment of your training, although there is a big difference between Iraq and Kosovo.”
Erik returned to the U.S. in June 2020 to attend the Air Force’s Squadron Officer School from July to August. He then joined RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, as part of an Air Force career broadening assignment called Education With Industry. There, he will participate in “think tank” operations forecasting long-term U.S. strategic policy.
The opportunity to travel the world has appealed to Erik since his youth. His father, Ron Schuh, was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel fighter pilot who flew combat during the Vietnam War. During Erik’s middle and high school years, the Schuh family sponsored Naval Academy midshipmen.
A 2011 Severna Park High School graduate, Erik had appointments to both the Air Force Academy and West Point along with Navy and Air Force ROTC scholarships to Penn State, George Washington and the University of Maryland. The choice was his to make.
“There was a push in an indirect way,” Erik said of his father’s influence. “Many of his friends owned airplanes. They would give me rides. The flights over the mountains of Utah were especially exciting. Growing up after my father had retired from the Air Force, I didn’t truly understand his life in the military, so by choosing the Air Force Academy, it has created a stronger bond between us.”
Prior to Erik’s assignment with NATO, he earned two master’s degrees and spent two and a half years with the Air Force’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test and Evaluation Detachment at Edwards Air Force Base in California. At Edwards, he was involved in testing the weapons on the multinational fighter. The job involved numerous trips to remote desert weapon ranges with Navy SEALs to evaluate the accuracy of F-35 guided bomb drops.
Those experiences reinforced Erik’s decision to join the military and embrace the opportunity to serve his country. And regardless of his dad’s background, Erik had to face the same challenges as everyone else.
During his freshmen year at the academy in 2011-2012, cadets had to adapt to losing creature comforts. Their phones were seized for a week. They were prohibited from watching media, like YouTube, in their rooms. The doors were always open.
“I was used to a house and a bed, and all of a sudden you’re sleeping in a tent,” Erik said.
Schuh and his classmates also had to “run the strips,” a tradition requiring them to run between buildings along marble strips while carrying their backpacks in their left hand at all times.
“Coming from Severna Park High School, I felt I was well prepared academically and athletically for the rigors of Naval Academy life,” Erik said.
The Air Force environment also enabled him to thrive. A former lacrosse and soccer standout for Severna Park High School, Erik earned a rare perfect score on the academy’s cadet physical fitness test and nearly got a perfect score on his aerobic test.
He also made the prestigious Superintendent’s List, a small select group of cadets who excel in academics, fitness, conduct and military performance. He graduated with “athletic distinction” in 2015 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
Now he’s exceling as a captain. He is stationed in Santa Monica, California, for 10 months with RAND Corp. After his five-year commitment, Erik will get an assignment that he can accept or turn down. He predicts that after the Air Force, we will pursue a job with one the nation’s three-letter agencies.
“I am enjoying the Air Force so far,” he said. “Most of my high school friends haven’t traveled very much. Fortunately, with the Air Force and my family, I have been able to see the U.S. and do extensive international travel to include most of the countries of Europe, Mexico, Columbia and Israel,” he said.
Having witnessed Erik’s growth, as well as the development of midshipmen the Schuh family have sponsored over the years, Ron has only compliments for the military.
“The family is proud of his service,” said Ron, who does mock interviews and career counseling with students at Severna Park High School. “Depending upon an individual’s wants and needs, the military provides a great opportunity to see the world, take responsibility and serve our country. I think it develops a well-rounded young man or woman.”