A 38-year-old Air Force pararescueman was killed Sunday during a recreational skydive south of Hollister when his chute experienced a failure, according to the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office.
Nathan Schmidt, whom law enforcement officials say lived in Santa Cruz and was stationed at Moffett Field in Mountain View, was pronounced dead on scene when he landed without his chute deploying in the Stonegate neighborhood south of Ridgemark and north of Tres Pinos off Airline Highway, Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Taylor told BenitoLink.
Schmidt, who apparently packed his own chute, was a member of the U.S. Air Force 131st Rescue Squadron, for which he was a highly-trained jumper.
Nathan was stationed with me at my last duty station, which was a reserve pararescue unit. In the reserves, PJ students don’t stay at Kirtland Air Force Base while awaiting their next school. They go back to the reserve unit, instead. It’s a pretty good deal for the students, because instead of sitting around doing PT, they get to do any training they’ve qualified to do in their pipeline progression.
So if it was a jump or dive, the students were in on the jump or dive. Weapons, medicine, you name it. If they were qualified to do, they did it.
I wish that I would have had more time with Nathan. I was one of the junior NCO PJs at the time, and I was pretty consumed with doing all of the things that junior NCO PJs have to do: the daily upgrade training, the TDYs, the pre-deployment spin-up training. All of this meant a lot of alone time away from the office. And Nate was keeping busy going from school to school, doing his PJ pipeline thing.
But there were still plenty of days when I was back at the unit doing the day-to-day big blue Air Force stuff that we were all stuck with. And then I would run into Nathan while he was back there between his pipeline schools.
So he and his fellow students would train with us, keep the section and the equipment squared away, and PT their asses off. And, since they were still in the pipeline and subjected to heinous physical fitness standards, they were in fantastic shape. I was supposed to be working out with them sometimes, but I would usually weasel out of it since Nathan and the other guys could kick my ass when it came time to go for a run or a fin swim.
Man, he used to crack me up. He was this big, tall guy with long, massive legs that were hairy as hell. And with the preferred working uniform around the section being silkies and a T-shirt, it made for quite the spectacle. I’d yell at the students to come over for some pushups or something, and Nathan would come running in with his little silkies and those big, long, hairy legs. I’m serious—these were like Sasquatch legs. And I swear he would size down on the silkies on purpose just to mess with me. They looked minuscule on him.
So he’d be on the ground doing push-ups or standing at parade rest with his tiny silkies and I’d be bellowing, “Schmidt!!! Are you KIDDING ME with those silkies! This is like a crime against humanity!” And he’d just keep doing his push-ups and smile, sounding off with, “YES, SERGEANT! A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY!” I would just crack up. He was a hard worker, a beast in the gym, and funny as hell.
Then, as is the way of life in the military, we went our separate ways. I left the unit and started working as a civilian contractor overseas. Nathan would go on to graduate the PJ pipeline, earn the maroon beret, and be assigned to a different unit, where he went off to war with his brothers and served his country with distinction in combat.
Nate wasn’t too shabby stateside, either. He jumped into the Pacific Ocean and spent three days out there with a scared kid on the Rebel Heart rescue mission.
Obviously, this is a tremendously difficult time for the Schmidt family and all of Nathan’s brothers-in-arms at the 131st Rescue Squadron. They’ve set up a GoFundMe campaign page where you can read more about Nathan. If the spirit moves you to do so, please consider making a donation to help out the family.
Nathan’s teammates also set up a Facebook memorial page, which is open to the public. It’s filled with great pictures and memories of Nate, including the ones posted here. Another item they posted was a letter from a Marine whom he had saved in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. I think it speaks for itself:
My name is Duncan Mathis, I was a Marine operating in Afghanistan in 2013 and was injured on May 19th. That’s the day I met Nathan.
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 awhile, 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 or “stalled in the door” so to speak. 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. He wrapped the spider harness around me, and radioed to his team that I was ready to go topside.
He pulled me in close and said, “Matty, this is gonna hurt. I know you think it can’t get worse, and I’ve given you as many pain killers as I can. But brother, this is gonna hurt. You can do this. My team’s waiting for you topside, and I’ll be right behind you.” As I listened to him, everything else faded away. He gave me a task and there was no way I was going to let him down. Not after everything he had done for me.
That was the kind of man Nathan was. He 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 okay. 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.
Outstanding. Nathan truly lived by the pararescue motto every day: “That Others May Live.” He will be missed. R.I.P.
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