Jarrette Schule was cutting down trees on his rural property Tuesday in Comal County when he noticed a green metallic tube on the muddy ground.
“I had never seen it before,” said Schule, a 34-year-old Web developer. “I looked at it, and it kind of looked like a missile launcher.”
Schule took a closer look. It was a long, forest-green metal tube. A decal on it read: “Guided Missile and Launcher, Surface Attack.”
The discovery was the start of a surreal journey for Schule. Somehow, an unarmed anti-tank weapon — or a very good fake — wound up on his land at Beck Road and Kirk Lane in the Hill Country, miles away from a military installation.
The launcher was deep in the wooded property far from the road, in an area he was familiar with.
“I don’t know if it fell out of something or if somebody just dumped it,” Schule said. “There’s some crazy whitetail hunters around here. Maybe they’re going overboard?”
Schule’s property in Comal County is vacant, and he didn’t want to leave a missile launcher unattended. So he loaded it in his truck and took it to his house in the North Side neighborhood of the Ridge at Lookout Canyon.
Touching and moving the launcher was a mistake, even if it was unarmed, a spokesman for Fort Sam Houston said. Old military ordnance can be dangerous.
But Schule spent Tuesday afternoon calling the FBI, Homeland Security, the Sheriff’s Department — every agency he could think of. He was stuck in a bureaucratic limbo.
“Everyone was handing it off to everybody else,” Schule said.
He was surprised at the amount of work it took to get the military to pick up its lost missile launcher.
Schule initially was nervous when he found the weapon. But as the hours passed, he did what most guys would do — marvel at the mind-blowing awesomeness of finding a missile launcher. He posted photos on Facebook and called his buddies, saying: “Guess what I found?”
Schule called the military police at Fort Sam. But their jurisdiction doesn’t extend off the post. Schule’s information was passed along to an Army criminal investigator, who visited Schule on Wednesday morning — about 19 hours after he started making phone calls.
The special agent walked into the house and saw the launcher sitting on the dining room table.
“She said this is the first time she ever encountered anything like this,” Schule said. “I got the impression it was kind of a big deal. Doesn’t happen every day, I guess.”
The decal on the launcher has a 13-digit “National Stock Number,” which is used to identify military equipment. The stock number is a match for launchers that fire Dragon surface-to-surface missiles, according to a database maintained by the U.S. Defense Logistics Information Service.
The launcher was built in December 1996. The Dragons, first manufactured in the 1960s, last were used in combat in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm. They were replaced by the Javelin missile system and finally discontinued in 2006.
Military officials were unable to say Wednesday who last had the launcher and when it was lost. The launcher has a serial number that can be used to track the chain of custody. That will be part of the military’s investigation, said Phil Reidinger, spokesman for Fort Sam.
At Schule’s house, he and the Army investigator had to wait for about three more hours for an ordnance disposal team from Lackland AFB to confiscate the weapon.
The team arrived at about 1 p.m. Wednesday and retrieved the device, ending a crazy experience for Schule.
“I thought just driving down the road, someone would just know that I had a missile launcher in my truck,” Schule said, laughing. “You think that way about the government.
But really, you have to make an effort for them to come get their missile launcher.”