Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shadows of the War

I was driving late Tuesday night, heading home from seeing some friends. The lights were soundless as they came up behind me. I’d had a beer, and I pulled over and worried for a moment as the lights carried on past me into the night. Ahead of me, more lights flew by soundlessly, then more. As I pulled to the curb in front of my house, the first siren split the humid night air, and yet another set of lights burned down the road.

Let’s go back to 2006 and meet George Nickel. He’s been in the US Army a long time- he was a private in the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry back when the Tropic Thunder division still had an Air Assault regiment. When I met him, he’d already left the Army and come back to join the Army Reserve with friends of his from his work at Idaho’s State Penitentiary. He’s given this country of ours a lot. On February 8th, 2007, on a narrow road outside of Karma, Iraq, Staff Sergeant Nickel, USAR, very nearly gave it all. He was the lone survivor from the explosion of one of the largest IEDs ever placed in Iraq- his 12 ton bomb-resistant vehicle was thrown above the tops of the 10-foot high reeds that lined the road. Three other good men died- the truck’s gunner, just a foot away, was blown from the turret and died before he hit the ground. The sergeant riding shotgun was even closer to George- he too died instantly. The driver was the furthest from the point where the blast penetrated the armored hull- he lived long enough for a medivac helicopter to arrive, but he died en route to the combat hospital in Fallujah. George Nickel was separated from death by mere inches. Nearly every bone on the right side of his body was broken, and shrapnel from the blast tore his flesh.

George was a private man. He was the sort to get married to a woman, and only tell his best friends, the ones he had rejoined the Army with, when they noticed the ring he was wearing. Everyone who deploys overseas has a contact number on file, so if the worst happens, the military can begin the process of alerting loved ones of their service member’s death or injury. George gave the Army a number that he knew his wife wouldn’t answer, trusting his friends to tell her before the Army found her. In the end, that was exactly how it happened.

He arrived from Germany at Walter Reed Army Medical Center just after the neglect scandal broke there. There wasn’t enough room for him; the administration there wanted to send him home to continue his rehabilitation therapy. He was on canes then- his house was in the woods of Idaho, an hour from the nearest VA rehab facility, and definitely not handicap accessible. Instead, he was housed in one of the old hotels nearby that the Army had rented out to house the overflow of wounded warriors from Walter Reed. A cab took him to his temporary home- another wounded veteran helped him carry his meager belongings upstairs. He ate from care packages rather than trust the meal service. He finally came home to stay in Boise on July 4th, 2008.

Fast forward to July 28th, 2009. Boise’s finest are running towards the sound of guns, and at the end they find George, still running toward the sound of his own guns. Towards his own demons. He’s lost his dog, and he’s searching the nearby apartments for the pup. A bullet into the lock. A boot into the door. Staff Sergeant Nickel is searching buildings, clearing rooms just like he did in Iraq. Suddenly there’s bright lights and a voice yelling “Police! Put your hands up!” He doesn’t. They start shooting, and he takes cover. Suddenly the war has come home for everyone, not just George. Trouble is, this is America and not Iraq, and in America we like to pretend that soldiers are GI Joes- like they’re heroes who never need our help. George is in a new world now- one where he is the 'perp' and not the hero, but in this new world he still needs our help more than ever.

Edit: I rearranged the wording a bit in a couple spots and clarified a couple points.

Welcome, Diggers, B5 readers, and everyone coming in off of other blogs and twitter!
If you haven't read the reporting on this in the Idaho Statesman, go to these stories, read them, and leave a comment:
Mystery still surrounds Iraq vet's clash with Boise police
Armed Iraq veteran charged in apartment shooting in Boise
Man shot at by Boise police Tuesday night is an Iraq war veteran

If you like, go ahead and leave your thoughts on this quote from the BPD chief:
"This is bizarre behavior," Masterson said Wednesday. "I don't know what would push people to that (level of) desperation."

Digg my article


  1. Ah, &^%&
    RIP Sgt Nickle - I'm sorry we let you down in the end, and we could help

    73 (Ham speek for 'Best Wishes')

  2. This is a must read post and I am mailing a link to it to everyone on my email list. I will also be placing it in my daily From the Front post.

    David M
    Editor: The Thunder Run

  3. *crying*
    Oh my God... how tragic. How do we let these things happen to our guys? I feel sick.

  4. btw.. this comment by the Chief is ignorant:
    This is bizarre behavior," Masterson said Wednesday. "I don't know what would push people to that (level of) desperation."

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. If that's his attitude toward everyone his officers face... he shouldn't be the chief.

  5. I heard about this yesterday. I'm so very saddened by this tragic turn of events. Thanks for putting this into perspective. God bless Staff Sergeant Nickel.

  6. Thank you for this post. It will do a lot of heroes good. Off to tweet it.

  7. Anonymous31/7/09 07:50

    Shocked and crying. Words will never be enough to express the felling I have. To the Family of Staff Sergent Nickel, my heart goes out to you and my thought and prayers are with you all. To Staff Sergent Nickels, Thank you... Courage, Honor and Respect; Stand down Soilder your work here is done.

  8. Thoughts and prayers for SSG Nickel and his family. We love and support you!

  9. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 07/31/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  10. This is difficult to read, very sad.

  11. As they say, "All gave some ... and some gave all."

    Is he getting any help at all?

    Chaplain Campbell

  12. Very well written.
    Very sad tale.
    Condolences to his family and friends.
    There's a reason why NAMI is in the sidebar of my Milblog.
    And there's much work to be done to continue stripping away the stigma from mental health so that people do get help. This is a long term issue --and we all have to fight to make mental health not only a priority, but ok to talk of.

  13. very..very.. saddened...something like this to happen to one of Americas heroes

  14. Anonymous31/7/09 11:13

    I just want to point out that his life isn't over yet; you all are talking about him as if he were already dead. He's not. You can recover from and cope with things like PTSD, or whatever it is that drove him to this behavior.

    In the end its up to him, but its our job to make sure that the resources are there to help him get better. Both today and for the rest of his life if needed. Maybe someone could start by finding his dog.

    Patrick (gryphmon)

  15. prestonious31/7/09 13:41

    May 1 million reach out to offer assistance to this hero, and he select the one or as many as needed hands to bring him peace within himself. Those not selected should not feel slighted or passed over for they make a difference as much as the one(s) he selects.

  16. Anonymous31/7/09 14:01

    One thing I know for certain, if he can ever ask, there'll be a million vets willing to help. Anything. Anytime. Anywhere.

    God Bless him.

    AW1 Tim sends

  17. Too many of our Warriors suffer from some degree of PTSD, and they don't get the help they need. Whether it is because they keep to themselves and don't ask for help or because their pleas for help are ignored or treatment is put off, either way is a sad situation. I personally know one Warrior who is suffering PTSD ~ nightmares, difficulty in relationships, depression ~ and is unfortunately "self-treating" with alcohol. It makes me sad that there is nothing I can say or do to help him; he's in Pennsylvania, and I'm in Tennessee; our main contact is via Yahoo IM. If I try to talk him into seeking help, he'll just put me on "ignore" until he has something to say. It may be a couple of days, a couple of weeks, or even a couple of months before I hear from him again. He seems more depressed every time we talk. He wants to go back to Afghanistan, and he's trying to convince the Army he's fit to go. I pray for my friend, and for all our Warriors who find themselves in the same situation, every day.

  18. While a lot of police forces are populated (thankfully) by ex-military, Chief Masterson either isn't a veteran or he spoke without considering the possibility of combat consequences. I am somewhat mystified about how it is none of the firing officers hit Sgt Nickel. I am thinking it is possible that they simply didn't aim too tightly because they really didn't want to hit him, he was well barricaded, plain lucky, or maybe they were late on re-certifying.

    It used to be called shell shock. This nation does not think it is at war. If we approached the war like the Greatest Generation did the World Wars, everyone would think to ask first "Is he military? Is he "back" in the war? Call the veteran crisis help line. Call in a crisis negotiator with PTS training." Couldn't help but think of Col Trautman.

    I read a Diane Dimond blog post about special courts for veterans. A few weeks later I watched a tv news report about such courts already in action. It is clear that SSgt Nickel needs more help than he's been getting. It is a very difficult problem for us. On the one hand, we value liberty and fear false arrest. But how do we "force" help on someone who won't ask for it, even if they know they need it?

    Do we think a single life is worth saving? If so, how much more noble a life to save than that of a fellow citizen who risked giving his for us?

    With great gratitude and pride, thank you Sgt Nickel, for your sacrifices and service to our country. May your country do the same for you.

  19. Terri LPN31/7/09 18:26

    PTSD happened to a Vietnam Veteran Hero of Mine, A Marine Recon, My Family took him in like a son! I am Proud to call him My Brother! He would talk to my parents They Seen Him through His life Get Married Have a Son, but he was tormented, unable to work in society! Few yrs ago I was visiting His Wife and Him w/my parents, They all went to bed My "brother" and I sat up He told me things that left me speechless. God Loves Him and I love This Man, We are not Blood but He is there when I need him and I too for Him! God Bless Our Soldiers We Love them for the Sacrifices. PTSD is a horrible thing to fight! The Voices, The Guns Noises they are real to those of war and suffering! My Prayer is that all who read this will remember there are those who hide pain inside themselves when they do trust you to talk, listen! Acknowledge their Pain with out words but w/your eyes, allow them to tell you their past, they will know your love and support! Also Veteran Patients of mine will tell Nurses things they haven't told their own loved ones when you take the time to Listen, really Listen! This Vietnam Hero was my Crush when I was just 14! Now He is My Brother! My Tears and Prayers go to Sgt Nickel and His Family!

  20. Anonymous31/7/09 19:02

    This is very disturbing, but from reading the article he is NOT DEAD. Is that right? So we can pray for him, etc, but we don't need to go jump off a cliff. Whew. He has another chance which he deserves. WE deserve another chance to serve him better. I do not like feeling helpless.

  21. My mistake - I thought he was killed - I'll change my wishes to "get well soon" - and "Let's get this man treated"

  22. Mikki Grit RN, TNS31/7/09 20:26

    There is help and hope for people with PTSD. That the police chief would make such a statement shows me two things, he doesn't know know the members of this community well, and he does not know about PTSD. Amazing since so many in the the police and fire service live it themselves. "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies" by Dr Mark Ghoulston is one of my favorite books on the market. If you have a loved one struggling check it out. I go around teaching hospitals and EMS personnel to recognize and manage PTSD. It is a gaping, oozing red, smelly pussy soul hole and easy to hide. Why would we expect someone to walk with a femur head sticking out of their leg? Time we recognized it for what it is. Many will say, "My soul hurts." May God bless you with the help you need SGT Nickel. May someone see you injury for what it is, trauma. Long past time to see the experts.

  23. Sorry about the confusion, all. I didn't mean to leave the impression that George was killed by the police. I've updated the main post to clarify that very important point.

    Thanks to those who have emailed offers of help. When we know here what needs to be done,I'll post an update in a new post.For now, I'm passing your comments along.

  24. Anonymous1/8/09 09:00

    I live in Boise, where the shooting took place. He is quoated as saying on a scale of 1 to 10 he was a 9. That is a lot of anger and out of control. Fortunately no one was hurt. I hope the judge sentences him to months of mental therapy. He needs it and should have had it already. He needs to be in the VA hospital where he can decompress. Unfortunately this particular hospital is always short of beds.
    Being the only survivor of his group he is caring a lot of survivors guilt. He does not deserve this.
    He deserves the mental help he needs. The same degree of physical help as if he had lost a leg.

  25. PTSD is REAL. You can't see it, taste touch or feel it, but it is there and it is DEADLY. A miracle nobody was killed in this incident. I hope his PTSD is taken into account, when the judge looks at this one.

    God Bless our Troops. Godspeed George Nickel. If I could, I'd trade all the flags and medals and bugle calls, all the honor and so-called glory, just to bring them all back alive.


  26. 一樓 咱們熟知的SOD、虎虎虎等不勝枚舉影片類,牆上的電視正在叫「啊啊啊」

    二樓 男性用: 矽膠用有個洞的那種 還有電動自慰器



  27. This is why it is so Important, for everyone back home,.. to just show a little understanding ang patience. Perhaps if people educated themselve's, they would of reconized this fellow needed some help,..perhaps maby,.. having a different outcome. My heart pray's for everyone of those Soldier's and for their families as well. I am an Army Infantry Mom, and my son came home okay, but I never forget the ones who wern't so lucky.
    AKA Army Infantry Mom

  28. TD, this is AWG.

    My heart aches for the SSGT.

    People on some places are wondering why he was doing what he was doing. I'm not even a vet, and I can see why clearly.


    You let me know what I can do to help. If there is anything, you let me know ASAP. Whatever it might be, if you think I can help, I'm in.

  29. Anonymous22/8/09 01:02

    I just read the story about SSGT Nickel. Darn! I live in a midwestern state and we had things like that happen with returning vets. Usually, they were acting like they were still in combat type situation. Some couldn't take the nightmare memories and committed suicide. All of it is heartbreaking. I hope and pray that nothing serious happens to this soldier. He does not deserve that. My nephew suffered from survivors guilt terribly. He had to get some help before he even left the landstuhl(spelling) hosp in Germany it was so overwhelming. Hopefully there will be people who can stand with him and some in authority that understand what this soldier was going thro mentally and emotionally at the time. He surely was not himself nor in his normal state of mind. I pray they take that into consideration. Praying for him and his family. Aunt of 3 soldiers home from combat.