58 SOW historian hosts former German AF instructor pilot

  • Published
  • By Christopher McCune
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

On Thursday, May 23, 2024, Christopher McCune, 58th Special Operations Wing historian, hosted a visit from retired Maj. Karl Schaefer and his wife, Edda Schaefer, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

Schaefer, a helicopter pilot, spent his career with the German Air Force (Deutsche Luftwaffe), and served at Kirtland from August 1988 to October 1992. Maj. Schaefer, then a Lieutenant, came to Kirtland as a participant in an Air Force pilot exchange program between the United States and what was then the Federal Republic of Germany, also known as West Germany. 

During his tour, Schaefer was assigned to the 1551st Flying Training Squadron, under the 1550th Combat Crew Training Wing, as an instructor pilot in the H-3 Jolly Green Giant. Since April 1994, the 58 SOW has executed the special operations and personnel recovery aircrew training mission, once performed by the 1550 CCTW.  This mission has been conducted at Kirtland since 1976.

Schaefer’s time in New Mexico proved to not just be personally and professionally fulfilling, but historically momentous. Following a return to base from an instructional flight on the afternoon of November 9, 1989, members of the 1551 FTS informed him that the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War divisions between the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact, had fallen.  This event became the catalyst that brought the Cold War to an end a month later, and the reunification of East and West Germany in October 1990.

In addition, Schaefer’s tour became extended an additional two years following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and the eventual launch of Operation Desert Storm.  The 1551 CCTW had been tasked to deploy three crews to the region for combat operations, so the German Air Force approved the extension so that the wing could continue training H-3 crews without interruption.

During their visit, Schaefer shared information about his time with the 1550 CCTW with McCune.  Along with serving with the 1551 FTS, the Schaefers and their two sons, Florian and Daniel, resided on base in the Wherry Housing complex, now demolished; Daniel was also born during this period as well.  This area is currently home to the Pararescue School of the 351st Special Warfare Training Squadron. 

Schaefer noted how much he and his family enjoyed their time in the Land of Enchantment. 

“We loved the friendly and helpful people we met,” he said.  “With some of them we are still in contact after more than 30 years. We loved the landscape in New Mexico, we loved the weather here (even if it was sometimes a bit hot) and we enjoyed traveling around to see a lot of your great country.” 

The visit to New Mexico brought back many fond memories for the Schaefer's of their four years in the southwest United States.  As host for the visit, McCune provided them with a copy of the 58 SOW’s heritage booklet, photographs of Schaefer’s former work location at Building 1019, and a short brief on how the wing’s mission, lineage, and training facilities had evolved in the three decades since his tour.