When Kristoffer M. Solesbee was a boy, he enjoyed making backyard bombs out of vinegar and baking soda. He also liked to shoot off potato cannons by igniting hair spray in a plastic tube to propel a spud. And he launched model rockets from a field near his home in Citrus Heights, a suburb of Sacramento.
“He liked burning stuff and blowing stuff up,” recalled his father, Larry Solesbee.
As an adult, Kristoffer Solesbee hoped to become a firefighter. But jobs in the field were scarce, and when a military recruiter offered him a spot at the Air Force’s explosive ordnance disposal school, “he jumped at the chance,” his father said.
But dismantling deadly roadside bombs and blowing up weapons and ammunition caches is one of the most dangerous assignments in combat.
On May 26, the technical sergeant and his unit were helicoptered into an area near the city of Shorabak, in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, to clear a weapons cache. A powerful bomb exploded there, killing him and seven other members of the U.S. military.
Solesbee was 32 and on his third combat tour after 11 years in the military.
On June 3, at a memorial service at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, where Solesbee had been attached to the 775th Civil Engineer Squadron, Air Force officers recalled his leadership skills and dedication.
“He was the example for other [explosive ordnance disposal] techs,” Master Sgt. Steven Hallenbeck said. “He was the benchmark.”
Col. Patrick Higby, commander of the 75th Air Base Wing, also spoke at the ceremony. Solesbee “knew it was dangerous territory infested with enemy and enemy improvised explosive devices.… It’s a crucial mission. It’s a mission that saves lives … and that’s why Kris was passionate about it.”
Solesbee was born in Brindisi, Italy, where his father was serving in the Air Force. He grew up in Citrus Heights and graduated from Freedom Christian School in 1996. After training as an emergency medical technician at Sierra College and interning at a fire station in Grass Valley, he enlisted in the Air Force in September 1999.
Explosive ordnance disposal training “is very tough,” said William F. Jasper, a close family friend. “A lot of guys wash out of it. You have to have good nerves because lives depend on it. If you move too fast or too slow, if you hook the wrong wire or make the wrong move, you can be dead. You wear all that gear and you sweat like crazy from heat and tension. “
Jasper said Solesbee had showed him YouTube videos of weapons caches being blown up. “He thrived on it,” Jasper said.
Solesbee’s father, a pharmacy technician for a manufacturing facility, said his son modeled himself on his maternal grandfather, who spent 30 years in the Air Force, rising to the rank of chief master sergeant.
In January, at his grandfather’s funeral, Kristoffer Solesbee gave a eulogy in which he said he hoped to take after his grandfather in three ways.
“He said he hoped to become a chief master sergeant,” Larry Solesbee said. “He mentioned how he would help his grandfather in the yard, and, like him, he wanted to have a crisp, good-looking yard. He said his grandfather had been married 67 years to the love of his life and created a good family, and that he also had found the love of his life and wanted to be with her and create a family.”
Kristoffer Solesbee’s wife, Lilia, was a native of Kyrgyzstan. They met in South Korea when Solesbee was stationed there and were married in 2004. They bought a home near Hill Air Force Base. “They had become fascinated with gardening and had planted a large vegetable garden,” Jasper said. “They had so many plans.”
Solesbee’s tour in Afghanistan began in January and he was due home in August. Previously, he had served two tours in Iraq, and also had been assigned to bases in Montana, South Korea and Turkey.
His awards and decorations included the Bronze Star Medal with Valor and two oak leaf clusters, awarded for three instances of combat heroism, officials said.
In addition to his wife, of Clearfield, Utah, and his father, of Citrus Heights, Solesbee’s survivors include his mother, Sandra Parker, and stepfather, Louis Parker, of Phoenix; a sister, Trina Solesbee of Sunnyvale, Calif.; and a grandmother, Cleo Reit of Citrus Heights.
He was buried June 28 at Arlington National Cemetery. The family said donations in his honor can be made to the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation.