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Family, fellow soldiers honor sgt. killed in parachute accident

Jun. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Sgt. Shaina Schmigel was killed in a Friday night parachute incident at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Sgt. Shaina Schmigel was killed in a Friday night parachute incident at Fort Bragg, N.C. (Army and Facebook)
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Family and friends of a spirited and driven paratrooper killed in parachute training accident at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are wrestling with their shock and grief.

Sgt. Shaina Schmigel, a 21-year-old from Medina, New York, died Friday during a late night T-11 airborne training exercise at the post’s Holland Drop Zone. The Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center and 82nd Airborne Division are conducting investigations into the cause.

Her mother Karie Schmigel told Army Times her daughter was outgoing, funny, earnest, caring, “and she loved her job.” She said she didn’t understand her daughter’s decision as a high school sophomore to enlist after graduation, but she was proud of her daughter’s service and hallmark determination.

“She said, ‘I’m going to make something out of my life, and nine times out of ten, you can’t get a job out of college,’ ” her mother said. “She said, ‘I don’t want to burden you with paying for college, and this is what I want to do.’ ”

Regarding the accident, Karie Schmigel said he would withhold comment until the Army’s investigation is complete.

Sgt. Schmigel made the jump as part of routine airborne operations to keep her jump status current, according to 82nd Airborne Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Virginia McCabe.

Schmigel’s death is not the first associated with a T-11 jump. Fort Bragg lifted an eight-month suspension of the parachute in March 2012, following the death of Staff Sgt. Jamal Clay during training at Bragg. An investigation identified problems with the packing process of Clay’s chute. After an 8-month investigation, officials validated the parachute but bolstered the training certification program.

The last soldier killed during a parachute training exercise at Fort Bragg, was using a different parachute, the MC-6. Col. Darron Wright, the 46-year-old assistant chief of staff for plans (G-5) for the 18th Airborne Corps, died Sept. 23 while conducting a standard jump at Sicily Drop Zone.

'Always outgoing'

Sgt. Schmigel, an intelligence analyst with the 37th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade planned to transfer in August to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. After joining in 2010, she was on the fast track, earning her jump wings at the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and getting a four-month deployment to Iraq with 2nd Brigade in 2011.

“It was award after achievement after award,” her mother said.

The young paratrooper had been engaged to Sgt. Chris Magoon, a team leader in the 173rd Airborne, until three weeks before the accident. Their relationship dissolved due to the distance between them, he said in an online chat with Army Times.

“Numb” from shock, he recalled Schmigel as “tough as nails,” and supportive to him as a noncomissioned officer.

“Always outgoing, laughing, smiling,” he said of Schmigel. “When she wanted something she went and got it. ... If someone said she couldn’t do something or get something done, she said ‘watch me.’ ”

A friend of the sergeant’s from Fayetteville, Kirsti Reesor, said Schmigel was a gregarious, opinionated “ball of fire” who loved country music and dancing at the local bar, The Cadillac Ranch. “When she walked in, she lit up the room,” Reesor told Army Times in a phone interview.

Schmigel didn’t say much about her job in intelligence, but she loved it, and she was thrilled to have made sergeant. “She said, ‘People keep calling me sergeant, I don’t believe it,’ ” Reesor said.

Schmigel’s distraught friends traded happier memories over the weekend, like the time Schmigel was determined to learn the line dance to “Baby Likes to Rock It.”

“I was teaching her to dance, and she really wanted to learn,” Reesor said.

Staff Sgt. Andrew Mitchell, Schmigel’s squad leader in 2012, said in an online chat with Army Times that Schmigel had grown tough quickly in the Army. Yet, he said, she “could make laughter out of any situation,” and wore her heart on her sleeve.

“She was a pleasure to serve and work with and her loss is a devastating one,” Mitchell said. “Shaina, you will never be forgotten. ‘Airborne from skies of blue.’ ”

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