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Patriotic Article
Heroes and Patriots
By Army SSgt. Ryan Matson

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Platoon Remembers Fallen Iowa Guardsman Hero
(April 22, 2011)

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Army Spc. Donald Lee NicholsLAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (4/19/2011) – Service members held a memorial ceremony, April 18, for U.S. Army Spc. Donald Lee Nichols, who was killed by an improvised explosive device while serving as part of a route clearance security team, April 13, in Mehtar Lam District, Afghanistan.

Following the ceremony, members of Nichols platoon, the Reconnaissance Platoon, part of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Ironman, gathered to remember not only the Soldier the unit had lost, but the friend and person, as well. The Soldiers served with their fallen friend on more than 100 combat missions, most of them in the ruggedly mountainous and insurgent-laden area near Combat Outpost Najil.

“When I think about him, I think about how anytime we had really hard missions, and it sucked, he always had something to say that would just make it easier,” said U.S. Army Spc. Erik McDonald, a combat medic from Iowa City, Iowa, with the Reconnaissance Plt. “You'd be just hating your life, but he'd say something to make it better. I don't think I ever saw him down.”

“Sarcasm was his forte,” U.S. Army Spc. Kris Henshaw, a sniper with the Reconnaissance Plt. from Sioux City, Iowa, who knew Nichols for two years. “We'd get done climbing a mountain or doing some crazy movement through the night in the freezing cold or whatever, and he'd never complain about it, but he would always have some ridiculous, funny, comment to say at the end of it.”

The other soldiers in the platoon agreed Nichols' sense of humor shined through at all times.

“You could feel completely worthless and tired as hell, and he'd come out with something that would insult you, but still make you laugh,” McDonald said.

“He definitely had a way of brightening up the worst situations,” said U.S. Army Spc. Nick Williams, a sniper from Muscatine, Iowa.

“He always went above and beyond your expectations of him, and at the worst times and hardest missions, he motivated you,” Williams continued. “You just wanted to follow him.”

The platoon talked about a time when they were under heavy fire on Hellfire Ridge, a mountain ridge near COP Najil. Bullets were zinging all around Nichols and he tried to make a move to look where they were coming from and three rounds landed inches from him, kicking dirt up in his face. They said he said something likem, “Maybe later,” and went back to crouching behind cover.

The platoon remembered when they came under attack in mid-February, after a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle was flipped by an improvised explosive device, it was Nichols who kept his head and responded first.

“He was rocking the .50-cal, which suppressed the enemy and allowed us to medically evacuate the injured Soldiers,” McDonald said.

Another of Nichols' trademarks was a Donald Duck keychain. The soldiers said he carried it everywhere with him, since they shared the same first name.

U.S. Army Spc. Jacob Ketelaar, an infantryman in the platoon, who knew Nichols since the two attended high school in Ketelaar's hometown, said Nichols had many interests.
“He changed them so much,” Ketelaar said. “He'd go from wanting to be in the FBI, to being a mechanic, he was ambitious. He had a lot of plans for himself. He was going to move in with his girlfriend and go to school in Iowa City.”

More than 100 people attended the ceremony at the small FOB in Laghman province, Afghanistan. The ceremony began with remarks from the battalion commander, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Kremer, of Cherokee, Iowa.

Kremer shared some background on the young soldier, born in Waterloo, Iowa, was 21 at the time of his death. Nichols graduated in 2009 from Wavery-Shell Rock High School in Iowa, where he was a stellar athlete, especially in wrestling. Shortly after his 18th birthday, Nichols enlisted in the infantry and completed basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Benning, Ga.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nick Rossin (left), a squad leader from Waterloo, Iowa, and Sgt. 1st Class Steven Beireis (right), a platoon sergeant from North Liberty, Iowa, both with the Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Ironman, salute the memorial stand of Spc. Donald Lee Nichols, who served in their platoon Nichols' memorial service took place at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, April 18, 2011. Photo by Spc. James Wilton
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nick Rossin (left), a squad leader from Waterloo, Iowa, and Sgt. 1st Class Steven Beireis (right), a platoon sergeant from North Liberty, Iowa, both with the Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Ironman, salute the memorial stand of Spc. Donald Lee Nichols, who served in their platoon Nichols' memorial service took place at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, April 18, 2011. Photo by Spc. James Wilton
“Spc. Nichols has made an impact on everyone here in life and death,” Kremer said. “Spc. Nichols is a true testament of being a great American with his decision to support this country, knowing that he would deploy to Afghanistan. Spc. Nichols will be remembered as a hero, a friend and a great soldier.”

Nichols' company commander, U.S. Army Capt. Shane Hunter, from Grundy Center, Iowa, relayed an anecdote of the soldier's tremendous will and heart.

“Spc. Nichols loved his job as a scout,” Hunter said. “It gave him an opportunity to put all of his military skills to the test and be part of a brotherhood that involved operating in the rugged mountains of Laghman province, Afghanistan. On one mission, Spc. Nichols severely injured his knee but he would not allow anyone to carry his rucksack. He did not want the others to have to carry his weight. He carried the rucksack until finally it had to be taken away from him. That's the kind of soldier Spc. Nichols was.”

“He was the guy who always carried the heaviest load, always,” U.S. Army Sgt. James Sherrill, a Reconnaissance Plt. joint fires observer from Johnston, Iowa, who read the scripture during Nichols' ceremony, said. “He carried a M-48 and at least 600 rounds and a really heavy bag on top of it all. He would amaze me. He'd be carrying all this stuff, and he might fall and hurt himself, and you would try to take his heavy weapon or his heavy ruck, and he would look you in your face and just say ‘No!'”

McDonald said even when he was hurt, Nichols would never quit, and he would carry his fellow soldier's gear when they were weighed down, but never allow them to do the same for him.

“Spc. Nichols' love for the United States Army and the members of his platoon was very visible,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Justin Foote, Nichols platoon leader from New Hartford, Iowa. “It surely will be tough to move on without him. And yet in all of this, we know that our grief is nothing compared to that of his loved ones, his parents, his fianc´┐Ż and his family.”

In accordance with Army tradition, the ceremony concluded with the last roll call, in which U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Brian Nichols, the HHC first sergeant, from Boone, Iowa, called Spc. Nichols' name repeatedly with no answer. After which, volleys were fired by the drill and ceremony team, and Pfc. Jeremiah Crisel, a chaplain's assistant with HHC from Sanborn, Iowa played Taps on the bugle.

A long line of soldiers, from all units on the base, passed by to pay their final respects to the fallen Soldier, the first the battalion lost during the deployment to Afghanistan.

His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” device, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and Combat Infantryman's Badge.

By Army SSgt. Ryan Matson
Combined Joint Task Force 101
Copyright 2011

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