Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marine Staff Sgt. Justin E. Schmalstieg

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Staff Sgt. Justin E. Schmalstieg, 28, of Pittsburgh

SSgt Schmalstieg was assigned to 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died Dec. 15, 2010 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

Marine bomb technician dies in Afghanistan

A veteran Marine bomb technician originally from Stanton Heights was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb on Tuesday.

Sergeant Justin Schmalstieg, 28, a 2000 graduate of Peabody High School and the son of two Pittsburgh police detectives, served with the First Marine Logistics Group and was an expert at disarming explosives.

He had served two tours in Iraq and was finishing a third in Afghanistan, according to his former neighbors in Stanton Heights.

Mr. Schmalstieg got married last year and moved to Oceanside, Calif., outside of San Diego.

In April, he was included in a story in The Convoy, the official publication of the First Marine Logistics Group, which ran an image of him working on a buried bomb during a March training exercise at Deluz Combat Town at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Department of Defense has not yet released information about where and how Mr. Schmalstieg died.

Diane Richard, spokeswoman for the city police department, said his parents, Detectives John and Deborah Gilkey, are grieving and requested privacy.

Family members declined to comment Wednesday.

Renee Drummond-Brown, whose son, Specialist Cardell Nino Brown, was close friends with Mr. Schmalstieg, described him as "a very brilliant mind." She said Mr. Schmalstieg spent so much time at her house as a child that she considered him a son.

Even as a child he was unusually quiet and calm, she said, traits that would have served him well as a bomb technician.

"He was the one with the peaceful spirit," she said. "This is a great loss to all of us."

Frantz Pamphile, another childhood friend, echoed her characterization.

"He was always quiet, collected, smart, kind, willing to be there or listen. He was a good friend," he said.

He said that Mr. Schmalstieg joined the military in part because his parents are police officers and they instilled in him "a strong sense of duty."

Marine raised in Stanton Heights killed in Afghanistan
A Marine who grew up in Stanton Heights died in Afghanistan, his family confirmed Wednesday.

Staff Sgt. Justin E. Schmalstieg, 28, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, was in his first tour in Afghanistan. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2001 and served three stints in Iraq, his family said.

"He loved what he was doing," said John Gilkey, a Pittsburgh police detective and Schmalstieg's father. "He was a good kid. What can you say? It hasn't hit us yet."

Gilkey said the family did not want to discuss the circumstances surrounding his son's death. He said they learned of Schmalstieg's death at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday when a Marine knocked on the front door of his Stanton Heights home and delivered the news.

"He loved his job. He loved his job, I'll tell you that," Gilkey said, standing on his front porch while family members gathered inside. "He was charismatic. He seemed to get along with everybody."

Schmalstieg's mother, Deborah Gilkey, also is a Pittsburgh police detective. He had a 15-year-old brother, John, John Gilkey said.

Schmalstieg graduated from Peabody High School, where he was on the ski club and ran cross country.

He married his high school sweetheart, Ann Schneider, in November 2009, Gilkey said. The couple moved to Oceanside, Calif., shortly after their wedding.

Barry Dunbar went to Arsenal Middle School with Schmalstieg. As kids, he recalled, Schmalstieg loved cartoons and video games, and the two would spend hours playing hockey in Morningside and rollerblading through Highland Park.

When they went to different high schools, they remained close, but eventually lost touch in the early 2000s, he said. They reconnected on Facebook when Dunbar, who joined the Army in 2008 and is stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, considered enlisting.

"We both thought it was a path we'd never go into because as a kid I was totally into sports, and he was into video games," Dunbar said. "But he gave me some choice words. He said, 'You can make a good life out of it and get your life on track.' "

In the 2000 Peabody High yearbook, Schmalstieg's senior portrait appears next to his future wife's portrait. He also is featured on a page dedicated to the cross country team, in which he was listed as a "top runner" next to a photo showing a lanky Schmalstieg pulling away from two other runners.

His wife could not be reached for comment last night. On her Facebook page, her profile picture shows her and Schmalstieg cheek to cheek, smiling at the camera.

The sergeant was an expert at detonating bombs, according to a newsletter published by the 1st Marine Logistics Group. In an April edition of Convoy, Schmalstieg is pictured lying on the ground while working on a bomb during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton in California.

Funeral arrangements are pending. Gilkey said the family is in a "holding pattern" while they wait for the body to be returned to the United States.

The Department of Defense did not immediately announce Schmalstieg's death. City police issued an internal memo informing officers that the detectives' son had died.

Marine Staff Sgt. Justin E. Schmalstieg was killed in action on 12/15/10.

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