Staff Sergeant George Nickel is in court again today. Hopefully, this will be the last time. Hopefully, we’ll see him go somewhere where he can get the help he needs. He’s pleaded guilty to a felony, discharging a weapon into a building, in exchange for having all other charges dropped. He’s still looking at up to 15 years in prison. We want to see him put into secure care. Most of all, we want to see him get better. Very few have given as much as George and survived. He deserves better than we’ve given him.
Before I joined the Army, before we invaded Iraq- when I first went to college…
One of my friends was a Marine reservist. His brigade was on alert to deploy for the invasion. I remember him coming to the dorm with all of his gear and sorting it, packing each piece of equipment away. He didn’t go, then, but he went twice later. The second time, he got to Ramadi just days after I left.
War came while I was on spring break from my freshman year of college. We were younger then, carefree and troublesome. Neither of us had much idea what war was like, but we were more than ready to defend the rightness of it all, and to go and fight ourselves.
We could have looked around and seen what war can do to a man, but we didn’t. There was a grounds man there at college who was a veteran of Vietnam. One day, some students made a dry ice “bomb” by dropping chips of dry ice in a plastic soda bottle, adding water, and screwing on the cap. They dropped it out a window, and this man, this veteran, came around the corner and saw it lying there on the grass. He went to pick it up, like he did with all the rest of the student trash. Just before he got to it, the bottle exploded. He tucked and rolled, and ran behind cover, scanning the courtyard.
Hilarious, right? I thought so. I wasn’t one of the guys involved, but I sure laughed about it when I heard. Like I said, we were younger then, and troublesome. We thought that flashbacks were something that ‘Nam vets had drugged themselves into, or made up so they’d have something to write on their cardboard signs. PTSD wasn’t really real, either- we all knew that that was largely an invented boogeyman. I knew all of this before I saw a bomb explode in earnest.
I know better now.
UPDATE: SSG Nickel is out of jail and checked into the VA for resident treatment. He will be on strict felony probation, but if he fulfills all terms of probation he can actually get it removed from his record once it's over. This is about as good of a result as we could have hoped for. George has a chance to get his life back.