Daniel M. Schoppert, 61, joined the U.S. Army at 17 with the permission of his father, a former U.S. Air Force man. Like others, Schoppert’s father ultimately settled in DeLand after his time in the service, and Schoppert spent his childhood moving from base to base.
He explained why he enlisted while he was still in high school.
“Me and my buddy — his dad was chief of security on the Albuquerque Kirtland Air Force Base — we used to hang out together, and his dad used to take us out and watch the fellows practice new maneuvers out there,” Schoppert said. “We were both going to go in and try to become Special Forces. Well, his dad talked him out of it after I had signed. And now, I’m committed, and was going to go into airborne and all that, and I thought to myself, you know what, I need an education.”
Schoppert pivoted to studying electronics during his years of service (1978-83), during peacetime in the Reagan administration. He worked in electronics for years in DeLand after his retirement, until an injury forced him into a career change.
Transitioning into civilian life from service, and years as a child on Air Force bases, brought some difficulties, Schoppert said.
“To me, coming back into civilian life, I found it kind of difficult because it’s not the same. People aren’t the same on the outside as they are inside,” Schoppert said. “On the inside, everybody’s your brother, and everybody sticks together. Everybody’s got your back. Out here, it’s a one-on-one, dog-eat-dog kind of world.”
As a child, frequently moving around helped Schoppert build the skills to meet new people, but made it harder to permanently settle in as an adult.
“You have to learn to meet new people — changing schools, make new friends and then have to say goodbye to your old friends. You kind of build a little shell around yourself because of that. So when you get back out into the world, that shell is still there,” Schoppert said. “You don’t want to let too many people in because you know in your mindset that you’re gonna have to say goodbye.”
Ultimately though, Schoppert said, with the help of his family, he adjusted. His sister’s friends became his friends, and he involved himself in charitable organizations like the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce (also known as the Jaycees) and the Knights of Columbus.
“When I came here, I’m like, OK, I like this place better than anyplace else that I’ve ever been,” Schoppert said of DeLand. “This is it. This is roots. My kids, they’ve gone to school here, they’ve grown up here … I have grandkids here.”
Schoppert was — unbeknownst to him — nominated by his wife, Cindy. Although he knew she was nominating his son, Cameron, he was surprised to realize he was also nominated as a Hometown Hero.
“I told her that I’m not a hero. I didn’t do anything — I just promised to give my life for this country. That’s all I did,” Schoppert said. “I had a job when I got out of school. I was able to make some money and make friends and learn a lot. And I did learn a lot, about people, about life, and about the pursuit of happiness.”