During the spring of 2005, Nishna Valley principal Deb Taylor returned to work after battling breast cancer. While it was a difficult time, she now cherishes a moment shared with then senior James Skalberg.
“I remember when I came back, he put his arm around me and said, ‘It’s so good to have you back,’” Taylor told the Des Moines Register last week. “He was very caring.”
Sgt. Skalberg, 25, of the U.S. Army, was a canon crewmember in a field artillery regiment. He was killed last Wednesday, June 27, while on active duty in Afghanistan. Skalberg died when the military vehicle he was driving detonated an improvised explosive device, the Iowa National Guard reported. First Lt. Stephen Prasnicki, 24, of Virginia was also killed.
Skalberg leaves behind his wife, Jessica, and their 11-month old son, Carter. He was the son of James and Kelli Skalberg of Alabama and the grandson of Bonnie and John Stephens and Karen Brewer of Emerson.
Taylor told the Red Oak Express she remembers Skalberg as a very polite student, always addressing her as ma’am, which she said surprised her at first.
In his senior yearbook during 2005, Skalberg was voted biggest feet, best car, prettiest eyes and biggest flirt.
“Everyone liked him,” Taylor said. “I’ll always remember that big smile and incredible blue eyes, and I think I can speak for the entire Nishna Valley community when I say how very saddened we are by his untimely death.”
In an Iowa National Guard press release, Skalberg’s family stated, “James was loved by his family friends and community. Carefree, easy-going, reliable, level-headed, loving, he was a gentleman in all respects.”
Skalberg was active in high school athletics, playing basketball, football and track.
Kevin Schafer, Skalberg’s high school football and basketball coach, said he was a fun-loving student.
“The kids in school really enjoyed being around him,” Schafer said. “He had strong leadership skills in sports and always conducted himself well throughout the school day.
I know we are all very proud of all he did for the country. He did things a lot of us couldn't, and my heart goes out to his family.”
Since U.S. military operations began in Afghanistan during 2001, 21 Iowa soldiers have died and another 50 died in Iraq. In total, 1,900 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan, either in action or during non-hostile activities.
This is the second soldier from Emerson who was been killed while serving in Afghanistan — Iowa National Guard Spc. James Kearney III was killed in November 2004 when his convoy was hit with rocket-propelled grenades. Kearney, who also attended Nishna Valley and played football under Schafer, was the first Iowan to die in the conflict.
Funeral arrangements for Skalberg will be arranged through Sellergren-Lindell-DeMarce Funeral Home.
Skalberg’s family requests privacy at this time. Their complete statement in the National Guard release reads, “James was loved by his family, friends and community. Carefree, easy-going, reliable, level-headed, loving, he was a gentleman in all respects. He was the true love of Jessica’s life. They met when Jessica was 15-years old and Jamie was 17 and their young love grew into so much more. A proud father, he was excited to have more children and was looking forward to teaching them how to play basketball. He was proud to serve his country and was greatly respected and loved by his soldiers. He will be greatly missed and remembered forever.”