Aurora, Colorado, US
Special Agent, Air Force Office of Special Investigations
Balad, Iraq, 11/01/2007
Special Agent Nathan J. Schuldheiss was nothing if not well-prepared. In his will, written before he left for Iraq, the counterintelligence specialist left $1,000 for the bar tab at his funeral.
He also asked that his ashes be spread over the Gulf of Mexico, in international waters 3 miles out, because he was someone who didn’t belong to any one place.
Everyone expected to celebrate Nathan’s homecoming on Thanksgiving. But, on Thursday, Nathan and two other special agents were killed near the Balad Air Force Base in Iraq when an improvised explosive device burst next to their military vehicle.
Nathan Schuldheiss was 27 years old, a graduate of Roger Williams University School of Law and a civilian assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. His job was to ferret out insurgents who might pose a threat to the military men and women assigned to the region. During his five months in Iraq, the work done by Nathan Schuldheiss and his team led to the arrest of 13 insurgents.
Nathan was on his way to interview a group of informants when the bomb exploded, according to his father, Jeff Schuldheiss, who lives in Newport, where he runs a bed-and-breakfast.
“He volunteered to go to Iraq,” Jeff Schuldheiss said yesterday. “His boss said, ‘You don’t have to go.’ But he had this calling. He couldn’t shake it. He told his mom, ‘If anything happens, remember, I had a full life.’ ”
Nathan was a natural leader, his father said, someone whose dreams were writ large. He talked about pursuing a career with the CIA or the FBI and joked about running one of those organizations one day. But he also talked about sailing around the world and opening a club with his friends.
“He was the consummate gentleman and smart aleck when we needed some humor,” a special agent wrote on a Web site called The Officer Down Memorial Page. “I will always remember his mischievous smile and his grace.”
Jeff Schuldheiss said his son decided to work in counterintelligence because he knew that the experience would be invaluable and possibly life-changing.
“He was absolutely patriotic,” his father said. “He has a quote in his will that says something like, ‘War is not the worst of things. Even worse is the person who believes that there is nothing worth fighting for…’ ”
“I’m 53 years old and I know that not everybody is the same as the next person,” his father said. “There are some people who are the leaders, the coaches, the people who continue to get better. Nate was a shooting star who burned so brightly.”
Nathan, the wanderer, will be remembered as he lived. His gravestone will be placed in Spokane, next to his maternal grandmother’s grave.
And, in a couple of weeks, his ashes will be spread over the Gulf of Mexico, where he loved to sail.