Former U.S. Army Platoon Sergeant and A&M-Central Texas Alum Earns a Career in Cybersecurity

Karen Clos
March 22, 2024

Former U.S. Army Platoon Sergeant and A&M-Central Texas Alum Earns a Career in Cybersecurity

To hear him tell it, before now-retired U.S. Army staff sergeant and Killeen resident Samuel “Sam” Schmidt, 35, joined the military, he was an average high school kid.

He played offensive tackle for Brentville District High School Tigers in Nokesville, Virginia, graduated, and even did a couple of years doing what a lot of teenage boys only wish they got to do: he was a roadie for a local metal band named Time Lord.

It wasn’t that he was musical, but he had friends who were. And he was built for heavy lifting. At almost six feet tall and muscular, he could do to any heavy equipment what he had lots of experience doing on the football field.

So, with a friend’s and band member’s recommendation, he got the gig, following the band up and down the East Coast, even making a couple of performance trips with the band to Germany and France. And, in case images of being part of the entourage conjures up images of living large in hotel rooms, Schmidt’s stories about their adventures are not about over-indulgence or living the glamours life.

“A lot of nights, the band slept in a hotel room or a room at the venue,” he said. “Venue rooms were always packed with their stuff, and the van was full of equipment, so there wasn’t any room for the roadies.”

More than a few times, he said, he had to find a place to sleep from whatever was available. And when that happened, it wasn’t a comfy recliner or even a carpeted floor he slept on, he said, his broad shoulders lifting into a shrug. When that happened, where he slept was a lot less luxurious than a hotel room, or, for that matter, any place with a roof.

There is a kind of tired that takes over when a person is past exhaustion – the kind of tired that no longer cares anymore about trivialities like where. And a couple of times, he said, he made his bed on top of piles of garbage bags in the alleys behind the venue where the band had played. It’s the kind of thing that only sounds remotely nostalgic or even hard core to those who never had to do it.

All of that, he had decided, was about to change. He wandered through high school, he admitted. Never got into any trouble, but felt almost aimless with the exception of sports, having never really applied himself intellectually or academically.

“As a roadie, I felt as if I had hit rock bottom and was going nowhere in life,” he confessed. “I craved purpose, direction, structure, and value in my life. But more importantly, I wanted to be a part of something more worthwhile than the life I was leading.”

He had decided to join the military, specifically the U.S. Army. And all he had to offer them at that time was, as he put it, a high school transcript that proved very little except before that moment he hadn’t been challenged himself – or at least, he told himself, not in the ways that mattered.

He wasn’t at all sure, he said, that when he walked into the U.S. Army Recruiting Office in Falls Church, Virginia. He was cleanshaven, almost six feet tall, wavy, reddish-brown auburn hair lingering just above the impressive breadth of his muscular shoulders and dressed in gym clothes. The air smelled of autumn, and he pulled the door open.

“I still remember that moment,” he said. “I knew for sure I was leaving the old me behind, and the new me was taking some really important steps into the future.”

The old Schmidt, he remembered, never thought of himself as fully challenged in high school. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. He took the courses he was assigned, did the work, and passed, and graduated. This time around, he thought to himself, he wanted more from himself than getting by.

He took the ASVAB, he said, his voice echoing some of the same residual surprise that he felt the day he took it – and got the results.

“I never imagined that I would score as well as I did,” he said humbly. “The recruiter kept telling me that I was eligible for any of the job positions in the Army, but I wanted the infantry.”

Imagine that. Faced with the prospect of voluntarily joining military service, Schmidt was well-aware not that he was about to undergo rigorous training and a military career, but also that he might be asked to put himself in harm’s way in service to that country.

In no time, Schmidt was in basic training at what was then Fort Benning (now Fort Moore), which is known as the home of the infantry. It was 2009. It was, he remembers, exactly the discipline he was craving. There are a clear-cut set of goals and everyone – individually and collectively responsible – for meeting or surpassing them. That, he added, is what service to country is about.

Of course, not every goal is scripted in such methodical ways. Schmidt met his wife, Michelle, through mutual friends, and they were married in 2010. And in the years that followed, he was deployed -- not once or twice -- but a total of seven times ranging from three to 13 months in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

In his last position, he was a platoon sergeant, and he had developed an abiding love for the Infantry, explaining that the Army refers to it as “the queen of battle” – imperative to the mission because, in its simplest terms, its duty is clear.

“In the infantry, the troops shoot. Move. Communicate. And destroy the enemies of the United States in close combat,” he said matter-of-factly. “If the infantry fails, the odds of the mission being successful are not good.”

In the infantry, he added, everyone knows this. And everyone also knew that it was the kind of duty that came with a high probability of physical risk. Despite that, Schmidt served for 10 years, until multiple injuries sustained by several IEDs damaged his spinal cord.

He spent a year in rehabilitation, getting worse and getting better, restoring most of the function and feeling in his legs. He wanted to stay in the Army, he said. His rehabilitation was more than recovery. It was about staying in the service.

And so, when he was notified that he was to be placed on medically discharged status, he did what anyone in his position as a trained infantryman would do: he fought it.

“I was bitterly disappointed with the news,” he said, describing how he tried to argue against the findings of the medical evaluation board. “When that didn’t work, I spent a long time angry and grieving and purposeless.”

The things he thought he might have done – law enforcement or security – were no longer possible because of his injuries. And at a time when he could have allowed himself to be mired in discouragement, the grown-up version of the young man who walked through the door of the Army recruiter decided that he would walk through another door and into another future.

“I had dabbled in video games and technology,” he explained. “And I kept coming back to what the military had taught me about problem solving and discipline. But this was a very different battleground.”

Before long, he said, he had decided. He had never been deep into technology, or, for that matter, even marginally interested. Before then. But now, he was seeing it everywhere and something about it intrigued him. By Spring 2020, he was attending Central Texas College full-time and filling up his course schedule with double doses of history and government classes as a part of the information technology degree program.

“Two years later, I had earned a 3.9 grade point average,” he said, as if he still couldn’t believe how well his former high school slacker turned out. “By that time, I was really excited about programming, and I went back to CTC for some of the courses I would need for the cybersecurity degree.”

Last December, at the A&M-Central Texas graduation, Schmidt walked across the stage in the traditional dark blue gown and mortar board, burgundy veteran’s stole signifying his military service around his neck and draped proudly in front, academic honor cords signifying his accomplishment, and the tassel from his mortar board swinging freely into his face, joyously tangling itself into the slight curls of his trademark auburn beard every time he turned to the audience to wave or smile.

He was especially happy, he says, because in that moment – and on that long road from infantry to information science, he had found himself again. He had completed an internship with Trideum Corporation in his last semester of classes, and had been encouraged by a friend, Andrew Cadran, also a former classmate and intern, to apply for the fulltime job.

In other words, Schmidt was happy for more than one thing that graduation day: he was holding the 11”x17” degree folder engraved with the A&M-Central Texas logo, and he was literally walking into a job the following Monday.

“The more I worked with Trideum, the more I loved both the place and the people,” he said. “It has the same sense of purpose that I found in the Army, and it means a lot to me to know that I am in a career that values the principles and discipline I learned as a soldier.

“And what I am doing now – what Trideum is committed to – is making sure that our troops are safer and more secure than they would be without us. I might not be there where they are, but I will always have their back.”

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