Major General (ret) Garry Schnelzer
A Leader In America’s Military Space Programs
By Ron Aaron Eisenberg
Those in the know will tell you, there were few things more dangerous than flying spotter aircraft in Viet Nam in 1967 when then Air Force Lieutenant Garry Schnelzer piloted Cessna-01 Bird Dogs to support ground troops and other military action.
Schnelzer was born in Toledo, Ohio. His dad worked for DuPont. He went to 17 grade schools before they settled in Toledo. As he describes his childhood, “We moved a lot, but normal is what you experience.”
From high school, Schnelzer went to Bowling Green State University. He told me, “I chose Bowling Green because they had a great ROTC program and flying opportunities. I wanted to be a pilot.”
In 1964, following graduation, he went to Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, where he learned to fly T-38 Talon and T-37 Tweet trainers. He graduated from Laughlin’s pilot training program in 1965.
Schnelzer was stationed in Viet Nam in 1967. He flew spotter aircraft, including missions during the Tet Offensive.
In 1972, Schnelzer earned a Master of Science Degree (in Satellite Geodesy), from the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Geophysics. He went on to earn a Master of Military Arts and Science from the Army’s Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1977. He attended the National War College, Ft. McNair, Washington, DC, in 1985.
For the remainder of his military career, and now as a consultant, he’s been immersed in space and space programs. As he explains it, “You can’t be a pilot and not be fascinated by space.”
Schnelzer served as the Air Force Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Space from 1990 to 1995. He was the first Air Force PEO (essentially the big chief) for all major space systems including satellites, ground, and launch systems. He led the operational deployment of GPS. He also supervised the launch recovery program following the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.
In January 1991, Schnelzer managed the deployment of operational space systems during Desert Storm, in Kuwait and Iraq. Currently, he provides assessments and recommendations on space-based systems for the U.S. Defense Department and Intelligence Community.
He sums up his professional career by simply stating, “I was very blessed – fortunate enough to do what I did. I was at the right spot at the right time.”
Schnelzer and his wife, Helen, live in 78209. They have one son, who lives in Virginia, and a daughter, who lives in San Antonio.