SAFETY HARBOR — Lance Corp. Nathaniel J.A. Schultz stopped by the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch here just before his June deployment to Afghanistan.
Schultz, 19, wanted to thank the staff at the center on Enterprise Road for helping him reach his goal: becoming a U.S. Marine.
It would be the last time staff members, whose focus is to help young people stay on the right path, would see him.
Schultz died Saturday as a result of a hostile incident while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, the Marine Corps said Monday in a statement from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"It's been a hard time here," said Scott Halbach, program director at the youth ranch. "It seems like it was a few weeks ago that he dropped by to express his gratitude to the youth ranch before going to Afghanistan. We got to say goodbye. He was great kid and this is a tragic loss."
Schultz joined the Marine Corps in June 2009. He was an assistant gunner assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, I Marine Expeditionary Force Forward.
Schultz was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in June and was promoted to lance corporal Aug. 1.
His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
"He was goal-oriented and focused," Halbach said. "Whether that goal was obtaining his driver's license, graduating from high school or going to the Marines, he would do what he could to make sure he reached that goal."
Schultz graduated from Countryside High School in 2009 and worked part time at Sweetbay Supermarket on McMullen-Booth Road.
Schultz came to the youth ranch in August 2007 and left in June 2009, shortly before joining the Marines.
Halbach would not discuss the circumstances under which Schultz came to the youth ranch because of the program's privacy rules. He also would not discuss Schultz's family situation, saying only he was from the Tampa Bay area.
But a 2008 profile of Schultz in a youth ranch magazine said "before coming to the ranch, Nate was hanging out with the wrong crowd and making some poor choices."
"The two best things about the youth ranch," Schultz said in that profile, "it keeps people on the right track and there is always plenty of food."
Schultz went on the say "everybody here helps you … they know who you are and can see what you can become. They help you make better decisions about how to act which has helped me a lot."
Halbach pointed to the youth ranch's mission statement to "prevent delinquency and develop strong, lawful, resilient, and productive citizens who will make a positive contribution to our communities for years to come."
"He totally took advantage of our mission," Halbach said. "Ultimately, it's an opportunity to get life going in a positive direction with the structure we provide.
"Nate, he thrived."
News researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.