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Army Pfc. Scott G. Barnett, 24, Concord; soldier dies in Iraq

Army officials say his death is under investigation but is classified as noncombat-related.

March 07, 2010|By Bob Pool
  • A church worker moves a floral display past photographs of Army Pfc. Scott G. Barnett during services Feb. 8 at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Concord, Calif.
A church worker moves a floral display past photographs of Army Pfc. Scott… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

His plan was to use his Army experience to jump-start his life.

Pfc. Scott G. Barnett of Concord, Calif., intended to move his wife to Germany, where he was stationed in the Bavarian town of Katterbach. When his tour of duty was over, the 24-year-old hoped to parlay the mechanical training he was receiving with the 412th Aviation Support Battalion, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade into a possible future career back home as a civilian mechanic.

But before he could move his wife, Nikki, to his German base, Barnett's unit packed up in November and was sent to Iraq. A few months later, he learned that his next stop would be Afghanistan. He tried to assure his wife he would be OK.

"I'll find a way not to go," he promised in an entry on his MySpace page. "The Army has kept me away from the ones I love long enough."

Ten days after that terse pledge, Barnett died Jan. 28 in Tallil, Iraq, south of Baghdad. Military officials initially announced that he was killed in combat, dying of "injuries sustained while supporting combat operations." Since then, Army officials have disclosed that Barnett's death is under investigation but is now classified as noncombat-related.

"His mom said he'd mentioned to her that he was going on a mission and was kind of nervous about that," said Nikki, 22. "I wasn't aware of him being in any danger zone. So his death was a shock to me."

She wasn't surprised when Barnett enlisted in the Army last year, however.

"He was having a hard time finding a job in this economy," she said. "He'd thought the Army was something he would enjoy and be good at. He'd taken a liking to welding and working hands-on on things like motorcycles and cars."

Barnett was used to wearing a uniform too. He had been a Boy Scout, earning its highest rank, Eagle Scout, and developing an interest in hiking and the outdoors that became a passion.

Christopher Bates, one of Barnett's teachers in 2003 at Olympia High School in Concord, still keeps a photograph pinned to the bulletin board at his current school in San Leandro that shows the proud teen receiving his Eagle rank.

"The picture shows a kid looking very accomplished. It says, 'See, I can do something with myself.' Scott had a lot of innate talent and intelligence," Bates said.

At Olympia High, Barnett was a member of the Junior ROTC. He was in his military-style ROTC uniform when he first met the girl who became his high school sweetheart and eventually his wife. "We were in math class and he had put tacks in the bottom of his ROTC boots. He tapped them on the floor and made a clicking sound and I started laughing," Nikki said.

The pair hit it off. They shared tastes in music, taking in every Linkin Park concert they could. Barnett introduced her to the Halo video games he enjoyed and impressed her with his love for animals -- he had cats, dogs and ferrets as pets. Nikki, who battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma as a teenager, took him on cancer fundraising walks. Four years later, in 2008, they were married.

With his first Army paycheck, Barnett bought a used 2001 Honda for his wife and together they started mapping future plans. They decided that their initial step after his military discharge would be to try to buy a house and start a family.

They were making short-term plans for Barnett's anticipated R&R leave home in March or April. For Nikki's April 1 birthday, they talked of taking a trip to Reno. The pair spoke daily via the Internet.

Along with his mother, Lori Barnett of Concord, Barnett had a close relationship with Nikki's mother, Denise Gill-Schilling of Martinez, Calif. Sometimes he would share his nervousness with her days before he would reveal it to his wife.

"Don't tell Nikki, I don't want her to worry about me. I'll come home safe for her," he'd tell his mother-in-law.

"I feel very blessed to have had him in my life," Gill-Schilling said.

About 300 attended a Feb. 8 memorial service for Barnett in Concord before he was buried in a private military ceremony at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, Calif. His former scoutmaster was among those who eulogized the soldier.

Posthumously awarded Army Commendation and Good Conduct medals were presented to Nikki and Lori Barnett by Army Maj. Gen. Susan Lawrence.

In addition to his wife and mother, Barnett's survivors include his father, Garland Barnett of Washington; and his sister, Bekkie.

"Scott was truly a great man who will be missed more than words can describe," said Chris Jaurigue, a 23-year-old Bay Point, Calif., engraver who relished hiking with Barnett on Mt. Diablo. "He's the best friend I've known in my life. There really is no replacing him."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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