On Monday I resumed my normal work schedule after taking a couple of weeks off to hike the John Muir Trail with a friend. I came home eager to see my family, drained but recharged, and looked forward to each day with an optimism that I've come to rely on more and more.
I went to the gym for a bit, and on my way out I had several missed calls and a text message from a PJ in the 129th.
Nate Schmidt died in a training accident. I knew you'd want to know.
Nate was one of the four Air Force Pararescueman that jumped from a C-130 a year and a half ago to save my youngest daughter's life. And now he was gone himself, training for a job that only the most selfless and couragous members of our society would embark upon.
For the three days we spent together on Rebel Heart before the USS Vandergrift arrived, he wanted to buy a sailboat and head down the west coast to Latin America. When he asked if I'd be interested in doing the trip with him, I said in clear and certain terms, "Yes, anytime, anywhere. Name it, and I'm with you."
Looking at Nate kitted out in his CSAR gear with an M4 paints a picture which is off center from the person I knew. Living no more than 10' away from him for 72 hours in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I saw a very special man. Someone who played with Cora and put up with endless corny jokes, the punchline-less variety that can only be delivered by a 3 1/2 year old. Someone that held both of my daughters in his arms, with kindess and affection.
Nate literally carried Cora on his back when leaving Rebel Heart. That image, of her riding on him, ended up as a piece of body art that he had tattooed on his leg.
I've been trying to square up my feelings ever since I got the message that Nate is gone. There is a clarity present in Nate's life that stands out to me. He was a selfless person with a kind spirit. His life was in the service of others, and I along with a countless multitude have an outsized impact because of him.
I will never take him for granted, and by extension I will not ignore my own ability to work hard in the service of others. Albert Pike wrote:
The onward march of the human race requires that the heights around it should blaze with noble and enduring lessons of courage.
Nate was one of those lights, and will continue to be for myself and my family. A constant reminder of what a single person can do. What a team can do. What a decent person who works hard in the service of others can do.
Nate, thank you. I hope you knew how important you are to me and so many others.