Dec. 31, 1976-Oct. 11, 2015
A Homer High School graduate died in a recreational skydiving accident in Hollister, Calif., Oct. 11, 2015.
Tech Sgt. Nathan Schmidt, age 38, was a “legendary pararescue airman with the California Air National Guard,” wrote Jeff Schogol in the Air Force Times.
His parents are Calvin and Debra Schmidt of Homer.
Nathan Schmidt was born Dec. 31, 1976, in Laramie, Wyo. He spent part of his high school years in Homer, graduating from here in 1995. He lived and worked in Santa Barbara, Calif., before joining the “PJs” in 2007, said his father. The “PJs” are elite pararescue jumpers responsible for providing emergency and life-saving services to airmen, soldiers and civilians in peacetime and combat environments, according to information from the Air Force.
Schmidt was part of the 131st Rescue Squadron at Moffett Federal Airfield in California.
“He loved the unit,” said his father.
Apparently, the unit also loved Schmidt. At his memorial service on base, Oct. 16, 2015, the commanding officer ordered the dress of the day to be “shorts, Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops,” in recognition of Nathan’s passion for surfing, reported his dad.
In the wake of Schmidt’s death, his heroism and kindness in different rescues was remembered.
Eric Kaufman told the Air Force Times about Schmidt’s involvement in an April 2014 rescue of his family while they were sailing from Mexico to New Zealand. Kaufman’s 1-year-old daughter had become ill and wasn’t responding to medication. The boat also had lost steering in the stormy Pacific Ocean.
“Suddenly a MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft appeared overhead and Kaufman saw four dots exit out of the plane. The rescuers swam to the boat. That’s when Kaufman met Tech Sgt. Nathan Schmidt,” wrote Jeff Schogol in the Air Force Times.
Kaufman told the Air Force Times he was immediately impressed by how kind Schmidt treated his two young daughters.
“He’s not dealing with a tough Marine that’s hurt in Afghanistan,” Kaufman told the Air Force Times. “These are little kids that are scared. There’s not a lot of people that you feel comfortable handing your small children to, and this is somebody who for three days could sit there and listen to my kids’ jokes and could feign interest in all the things that they were interested in and could make them feel better and make them feel safe.”
Over the next three days, Schmidt provided medical attention to the youngest child, helped pump out water and acted with a sense of love and compassion that went beyond what Kaufman expected, wrote Schogol.
“I think that is the thing that stands out most to me because you can’t fake that. … (Y)ou can’t instruct somebody to be a genuinely decent person — they either are that or they’re not,” Kaufman said. “You can’t hide that for 72 hours on a small sailboat in (a) bumpy ocean, sleep-deprived, wet. Who you are is going to come through. I just saw a really special person that truly cared about other people.”
After hearing of Schmidt’s death, Duncan Mathis, a Marine rescued by Schmidt on May 19, 2013, in Afghanistan, wrote about the incident: “When I met Nathan, it was one of the worst days of my life. I had more broken bones than I could count, I was covered in my own blood, I was 80 feet deep in a well, alone, in the dark, and almost at my breaking point. … I had been alone for a while, and all of a sudden I heard a voice. It was Nathan, after being alone for so long just the sound of his voice started to pull me back in to reality.
“He finally reached the bottom of the well, introduced himself, and went to work. As he worked on me was always calm, cool, and collected. It was like he had done this exact mission a million times. He never once paused. … And, little by little, he was able to pull me back from being a scared kid to a Marine that was back in the fight.
“We started joking around and I was able to help him with the good arm I still had. He had an awesome way about him that made me feel like we were a team, not just him rescuing some helpless victim.”
Mathis wrote that Schmidt “made you think the impossible was possible. After I made it stateside he reached out to me and asked how I was, made sure I was doing OK. He even offered to buy me a beer if I was ever on the West Coast. That’s who he was. He was a warrior; he risked his life more times than one could count to help others. But more than that, he was a brother, and on my worst day he turned a bad memory into one that will motivate me for the rest of my life.”
Schogol with the Air Force Times wrote that the team was able to extract Mathis within an hour due to Schmidt’s ability to operate quickly. Schmidt had to sit at the bottom of the well for another 30 minutes as the team tended to Mathis, according to a tech sergeant named Jacob who served with Schmidt.
“He was like PJ’s PJ,” Jacob said. “If he kept going, he could have been Chief.”
“He was highly respected by every single PJ and combat rescue officer,” said a captain and combat rescue officer who identified himself only by his first name, Tristan, due to security concerns. “He was your go-to guy if you had something that was complex or difficult — you knew he could do it.”
Schmidt is survived by his parents, Cal and Debbie Schmidt of Homer, and brother, Eric Schmidt of Prescott, Ariz.
The family requests that memorial donations be made to the That Others May Live Foundation, a nonprofit organization that Schmidt supported. It provides scholarships, immediate tragedy assistance and other support to families of rescue airmen who are killed or wounded, according to the Air Force Times.