March 6, 2021

11 - Nick Burkert

11 - Nick Burkert

Hey everyone, in this episode I sat down to talk to Nick Burkert, a veteran of the famous 82nd Airborne Division. He did two tours through Iraq and one in eastern Afghanistan, before finishing out his career as a recruiter. He's an incredibly honest, and open guy who talks about a lot of things most vets aren't willing to open up about. 

Transcript

Nick: [00:00:00] That was the point where I was like, this is a deployment where I'm going to die.

 

 Chris: [00:00:07] Hey everyone. It's Chris here with the newest episode of the Long War Interviews. My guest today is Nick Burkert and I think this is one of the most honest interviews I've done. And I really respect the hell out of Nick for being so candid about a lot of things that are hard to talk about. I think you'll enjoy this episode, but before we get started, I want to talk about death and dying.

Everyone knows in an academic sense that someday all of us will die. We all know this. We don't think about it much, but we understand it just the way it is. But sometimes your own mortality becomes more apparent. Maybe you have a medical problem or you're in a car crash, but there are times in life when death is no longer an academic abstraction.

But an up close pressing issue. For a lot of people who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, death was an up-close pressing issue all the time. Every time people left their FOB in Iraq and headed down IED strewn streets, they felt that little tug, heard that little voice saying, maybe today's the day. I certainly felt that way when I was in Afghanistan.

And it, it takes a little bit of you to come to the conclusion that you're going to die soon and going through the mental process of obliterating your future, it's hard, it's painful. And then if you don't die, if the, if the chemo gets rid of your cancer, if the car crashes isn't deadly, if you rotate back home from a deployment, it takes time to realize that you made it.

You have a future. Um, I'm just regular guy and I wish I had a better way of describing that feeling, but I hope you can understand what I'm saying. I hope it make sense. Anyway, there aren't any veterans organizations to promote today. Nick has a good reason for not wanting to recommend any and I hope you'll listen to all the way through the end to find out why.

Okay. Let's start the show.

 

 

Nick: [00:03:00] My name's Nick Burkert. I served in the US army from January of '06 to October of 2017. Spent most of my time with the 82nd airborne division.

I was 19 Delta for the army. It's a cab scout. I tell people it's similar to infantry, but I was mostly when I mostly, I was say 95% mounted or as infantry, I feel like in people's heads, it's like purely dismounted vehicles are for, for a weak asses.

So I was mostly mounted. And then I had airborne school in my contract. So after basic and MOS training. I went straight to Fort Benning for basic airborne school. And I was like three weeks, I think. And then I got assigned to the 82nd airborne division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

 

 Chris: [00:03:48] Do you want to  maybe talk a little bit about, you know, the 82nd airborne a little bit about airborne. Like it's a very historic unit. I'm sure a lot of listeners have heard of it, but maybe it's just like, you know, what's its legacy and kind of what, what's their mission.

Nick: [00:04:01] Yeah. So.  The 82nd airborne division has a long illustrious career of, I believe their motto spent four years as America's guard of honor. You know, sun's very illustrious, very I guess I grabbing that's what got me to volunteer to go to Fort Bragg instead of the one 73rd, which was a natally and also an airborne unit.

It was like, you know, 82nd airborne Fort Bragg, you know, it's, it's One of the large first or second largest you know, military base for the United States in the world. And regardless seems like a good place to start, you know, 18 private Berker. And it still has to function this way cause it has for decades, but you know, out of the four combat brigades and the one support brigade Ida second airborne.

There's always one brigade that's on GRF, which is the global readiness force. Hurricane Katrina, I believe it was second brigade combat team, even though they're a combat element, they went and supported Katrina in a non-combat role just as a humanitarian effort.

And then with the earthquakes in Haiti, I can't recall when that was But the Haiti earthquakes, same thing or GRF not mine, but the 80 seconds deployed to Haiti in a humanitarian role to help with the efforts there in, in the aftermath of those, you know, devastating earthquakes, sorry, earthquakes.

It was one of those natural disasters. I, I'm not trying to make light of it. I just can't recall. It's been so long. So. The catchphrase is always, you know, on 72 hours notice you know, the GRF can be wheels up on their way to any corner of the world within that timeframe. And you know, if that GRF deployed, you know, the backup GRF, you know, would take its seat.

In first God forbid to GRS from. You know, a division have to deploy in two separate you know, conflicts or humanitarian efforts, but yeah, it it's earned its title just based off of the historic battles. That's been a part of you know, to the point that, you know, the airborne drops zones on Fort Bragg are named after some of the famous ones.

Normandy is the only one that's coming to mind right now.  So in more specifically to answer your question about what airborne is, so you know, basic airborne it's.

By title, the basic airborne course. So the school was at Fort Benning. It's three weeks long. First week they call ground week. You're pretty much just learning pretty much just learning how to put the equipment on. And if I recall correctly, how to they call it a PLF, a parachute landing fall. Fancy jargon for you're falling at 22 feet per second. Here's how you crash into the earth without breaking lens. Cause that's all it was. And the second week if you ever seen the movie, we were soldiers with Mel Gibson. There's a point in that movie at the beginning, right before they deploy where Mel Gibson, you know, he, you know, they're deploying and, and you see no Gibson standing in front of the the towers where In second week of airborne school, you put on the harness, you put on a deployed parachute and they hook up the parachute to this, I guess, pulley system.

It pulls you up this tower, and then it lets you go. And you know, the intent is you're going to do that, that PLF, that parachute landing fall when you hit the earth you know, it's better to do it.  They drop you do the PLF so much more controlled environment. And then assuming you've made that far airborne school is not hard, but assuming you've made it to this point a third week is jump week. So you do a Hollywood jump, which. Is just the parachute, no combat gear, no rifle, nothing. Just the parachute in. And we would call it Hollywood. I believe who did three Hollywood's, one full combat gear.

And then the fifth jump was to qualify and earn your wings. And you did that on graduation day, you jumped into the drop zone, full combat gear. You come you are essentially walking into graduation where. Friends and family could be waiting. And at the time they were still doing down, I've heard the phrase blood wings it's been kind of D yeah.

They just pretty much smashed the wings into work. I really have to be sitting under your collarbone below it just, yeah. It was a Rite of passage and you know, I I'm sure they did away with that, you know, all these years later, but you know, after that,

wish it was higher speed than it is because people think, Oh shit, you're airborne.

And like, you weren't like the whole face mask for oxygen and jumping out and deploying your shoe. Like, no you're thinking like halo, like special forces, like think of. The kid with the helmet on, and that's what airborne was to me. Like you got the super buff guy doing the halo jumps with SF, and then you got the special kid wearing the helmet.

And that was us. And it was a static line jumps. So,  for people that don't know, it's, it's cable that to the parachute that's packed on your back. This cable hooks to the static line that is in whatever aircraft you're jumping from. And when you jump out, it's really hard to mess up. You jump out that static line extends from the shoot.

 It deploys your shoot. And then you're just floating down and you do your PLF you know, when you get there. So I'm not diminishing it. I loved it. You know, I love being part of the second There was a huge sense of pride    aside from the cool guy units, like special forces, CAG you know, the Rangers stuff like that, I think for regular army units, the second you know, it was really unmatched and Yeah, I truly loved it. I would have spent my whole career there if I could.

 Chris: [00:09:38] I get that. Do you want to, I was thinking maybe for this next part, talk a little bit about your two pumps through Iraq, kind of. What you did, how it was different on each of your tours and then  talk about Afghanistan more or less, you know?

Nick: [00:09:53] Yeah. So the first deployment was part of bushes surge.  And the surge was anywhere from, it could be one year deployment, which was typical for the army. Or it could be up to 18 months, which at the time I thought it would be super awesome because I'm 18. I'm like, yeah, I'm going to go fucking kill bad guys. But 18 months looking back, knowing that I did 14 and a half, I'm like Jesus Christ.

I, it is fucking terrible, but. Our mission in Iraq we're in the Nasiriyah area. The base we were at is, was combat support center. Skandia it was the last fueling stop. Anyone that was doing like resupply missions to by op or farther North Leave Kuwait, they would drive. They would stop at scanning, you know, cause it was a massive refueling point.

And then the next day or so they would make, you know, the last leg of their journey to whatever Northern area that they were traveling to. So our main role there scan your was literally bordered against MSR Tampa and our role. was RCP the route clearance package. We had limits to the South and North, but we had a certain section that was under our AAO to the South on the MSR and a certain I want to say it was like 20 clicks to the North was our part of Tampa.

And then. All the area to the East and West of it. So that was our primary mission kind of the auxiliary missions, as I recall doing where these Kaylee key leader engagements we'd meet with, you know, the local movie stars and, and I can't remember the other phrase now, but like the mayors and, and you know, governors of the region kind of Trying to get them to play nice with us you know, stop blowing up our convoys, stop blowing up the supply convoys, you know, what can we do to make our area had AQI and jam or  where the big players in Rio and you know, at the time yeah, IDs. In the traditional S as, I mean, I guess as traditional ideas can be, but like, you know, one, five, five stuff that, that a uh, I feel like we'd be able to detect with the various equipment, but we're got to we're really came to a head was right after the new year. So it would have been into 2008. We'd been there six months. my platoon leader at the time, Lieutenant Scholtz recently got promoted to first Lieutenant and he ended up getting promoted in position as well to our XO. So he was our XO, but at the end of January, January 31st we took, we always took mortar fire. You know, someone land inside the wire, some wouldn't, their aims sucked. It wasn't like our mortar men were you know, you could drop it on a dime. You know, they, they had a hard time hitting anything remotely near us. So, you know, we'd still go to the bunkers. When we heard first half heart point, we didn't have an alert, but you could hear if you'd been there for a while, you could hear someone just hung around.

Outside the wire and it was close. And then, you know, you hear the whispering coming in the cracking. January 31st is where it all changed though, because Lieutenant Scholtz, like I said, he was promoted XO. So he had his own office now. And out of all the rounds, out of all the locations, they could have hit on our FOB.

They hit, you know, Straight through the heart. They hit essentially  right outside his office door. And, you know, next door was our commander's office. And first sergeant's office in our armory was next to them. And then our talk was across the pavilion. Kind of, it was not much bigger than the room I'm sitting in right now.

And, you know, Lieutenant Schultz was you know, he got trapped in his office and he ultimately you know, was killed from that mortar blast. And you know, the next day I remember this is my first death I had experienced in, in someone not close to me. Like he was a close friend, but you know, he was my platoon leader for the year leading up to the deployment and the six months until he was promoted. So it, it hit really close to all of us. And just had a kid Logan and he just went to go see him on mid tour leave. And I remember they said I wasn't part of this. Cause at the time I think I was like a PFC. But the NCO, I heard them talking like, Oh, we gotta go you know, empty some freezer because you know, we didn't have a triage hospital.

We didn't have the luxuries of some of the bigger mega FOBs. So we had nowhere to store his remains and I just remember them telling not me, but in the vicinity, like yo we gotta empty this freezer to put his remains in there. I'm like me being the young, private A war like Iraq to how things would be handled here in the States.

And like in my head, like, what do you mean? We're putting him in a freezer. remember hearing that being so angry, but I was a private, so I didn't want to, like, it was already an emotional time for everybody. And my guard will, the E-6s in the room are saying this, like, this is what you do when, when someone's KIA.

So w they're emptying a freezer and putting his remains in it until the Medivac can come in and, and take his remains elsewhere. And I'm like, what the F you know, like this is the, this is the world I find myself right now.

But You know, the remaining from that point forward, the combat kicked up and our next death was Sergeant West and that was March 11th or 12th. I don't think he was in E-6. I was an E-3 . He was in a different camp, a different platoon or a different company. Sorry. And him and I had never crossed paths.

So, you know, the, the. Connection emotionally wasn't there, but you know, it's like still your battle buddy. And I just remember his so vividly because my birthday is March 14th and he died on the 11th or 12th and his Memorial was on my birthday. And it was just such a, yeah, I'm not saying that to make it about me, but it's like puts you in such a surreal frame of mind, like.

We're going to do this Memorial service. And then we're going to go do RCP again. So let's do the Memorial, like let's pay our respects and everything. Like, we're going to take the time, but you know, this is war, this isn't the time for morning. This is, this is the time to fight back. You can mourn, you know, maybe when you get home, if you're not spinning up for another deployment, but you know, there is no time for emotions right now, and that was.

You know, it's a crazy thing to, to swallow it, you know, 19 years old PFC and yeah,

Chris: [00:16:45] this one thing,  maybe you can empathize with this a little bit. When I would hear, you know, KIA reports or it's coming in and you're talking to people at different convoys if you, you know, you don't hear it on the radio. And you hear that someone died and you're thinking, you know, the first thing that comes into your head, it's like the list of your friends, you know, like don't let it be these people.

And there's, it's, it's shitty. And it's one of those things I think about sometimes. Where you're like you find out it's someone that you've never heard of. You don't know who they are, you know, you don't know him from some exercise years ago. Like you never ran into him. And it's, it's like a weird sense of relief is you're like, Oh, you know, thank God it's not one of my friends or like someone from my platoon, you know, whatever. And it, it feels shitty to be like feeling relief that it's not someone, you know, do you know what I'm talking about? That, that kind of complicated feelings.

Nick: [00:17:36] Yeah. A hundred percent man. And it's, you know, you feel for the people just because, I mean, it's inherent in all of us, you lose someone in such a gruesome way and Seargent West was.   And you know, like you said, there's a sense of relief that you didn't know them directly, it's like, shit, should I, like, I feel guilty for feeling that way, but it's it's I feel like it's just a natural human response, like, Oh shit, someone died. I hope it's not my partner. I hope it's not my mom and dad. I hope it's anybody else, but you know, really, you don't hope it's anybody, but it's gotta be somebody.

so  but my second deployment okay. Was way in Northern Iraq. And I meant to look up the base because I get the location of these two bases mixed up, but it was on the border of Iraq and Syria on the Northwest side of the country and we're at a place called J S S Hyder.  And even though we were literally like in our guard towers, you could see into Syria, it was a massive border point of entry for, I mean, pretty much similar to ours, like trucker is coming in and out delivering goods, exporting goods.

But the big thing, since we were right on the border was foreign fighters coming in from Syria into Iraq. And, you know, the borders were not what people think. I mean, in comparison to what we do with our borders, their borders between Iraq and Syria is just. A huge amount of dirt. Like it was a deliberate effort, but it was just, they pushed all this dirt together.

Like, all right. If you really want to cross, you have to hike up this mountain of dirt, but then you're in the next country and that's all it was. And forward fighters would, would come from Syria into Iraq. So ours was border interdiction not the point of entry, but the illegal border crossings and into the state.

I just describe it as. We were border patrol for a year.  But yeah, so my second rotation to Iraq I think was you know, we didn't lose anybody from our squadron that I recall.

Injured a few, not my platoon, but a few gunfights here and there. You know, we one night, one of them were sucks about a lot of things with deployments these days, but it was April 2nd of 2010. No idea why I remember it that specifically, but April 2nd or third of 2010, we were doing a border interdiction.  Night set of multiple ops with our four or five trucks. And we waited and my gunner, I still talk to him today.

He had the the El Raz with the 240, I think. And he's like, Hey, seargent B and the other two NCO's in the truck. You know, I got movement. It this system, like in my head, like fucking seriously, like this mission sucks. Like this is a mundane, boring mission.  Like now we're going to get out of the trucks, hump up. These mechs are on the border. Like these, these mountain dirts of moon dust.

Like MALDI you, this better be legit. I swear to God. I was pissed because it's like midnight one in the morning at this point is like, no, seargent. I see somebody I'm like whatever. I was only an E-5 at the time. So Sergeant white was our Section leader. And then Sergeant Markham was the other team leader with me.

And then we had our Lieutenant, he was terrible. Here's a West point, graduate hate West point graduates. But we all dismounted and this lieutenant's like, this is my first time being in some shit.

Chris: [00:21:19] Very, very boot Lieutenant kind of thing to say.

Nick: [00:21:24] is gonna be real like, Hey, you know, maybe Sergeant white and Sergeant, Markham you know, hug wide to the Northeast to flank him to the Southwest. And somehow I drew short stick and I was with the LT. And you know, he's not about to take tactical advice from me an E five, even though. I have a 14 month deployment under my belt already.

 Whatever. So we, you know, hugged way Southwest to come up into the Northeast and, and interdict these guys because we didn't want them to run back into Syria where we had no jurisdiction. in the midst of the LT and I. Inconspicuously making our way to where we're going. You know, we hear one round pop off. It didn't sound like an AK. It sounded like an M-4. And you know, like this, it better not have been an ND because I'm already pissed off. It's hot as hell. It's April my, this better, this better. Be getting ready to be something worth it.

So we start running the moon dust, as you know, it gets everywhere, everywhere. And when we get there and Markham is wrestling with this dude thing is it looks like he's wearing a uniform of sorts, like, you know, fast forward a couple of minutes. And I hand my weapon to the LT. And, you know, I start getting down there and trying to get this dude zipped up and somewhere along the way, this dude punches me in the temple and I roll away a little bit.

I'm not a big dude at all. So I don't know what business I thought I had on the ground with this guy that usually had 40 pounds on me at least, but I was trying to help. And in the midst of this very mild chaos somehow the dude gets away from four of us. It's embarrassing gets away, starts running into the darkness.

He had a weapon when our gunner looked under the El Raz. He didn't have one at this point.

But we know what's getting ready to come. He's running. He's not running back towards Syria where he knows we can't follow him. He is running deeper into Iraq. So we're like in my head, he's running towards a weapon. When we saw him on the  initially there was two of them. Now there's only one. Yeah, Sergeant white shot this dude three times,  we run up to him and, and all three rounds hit. I don't know how he kept running, but they hit the last round. I'm assuming it was the one that took him down, but came in to the back of the thigh, came out the front of his thigh and his femoral was just, it was just going everywhere.

And    there's a second guy traipse around and cause our MALDI our gunner with the LRAz is like, Hey, there's a dude looking at your, from like the Syria section of the DMZ. All right. So our medic had gotten there by now, he's doing his thing  and I start doing, you know, at this point, light discipline was gone. Cause we're triaging this dude. So this huge beacon of light, I'm like, all right, so I do a roving patrol 20 or 30 meters out.

And I see this dude popping his head up under nods. And if I remember right, like stop in in Arabic is a. So screamed awguf and he wasn't a threat at the moment. But as soon as I, there was. Very low illum that night. And as soon as I yelled that, I saw what it was like the silhouette of an AK.

And you know, I assuming I shot him and, you know, I run over there. He was rolling down the Hill and he gets logged into a military vehicle. And it was like, yeah, that, that was the first and only time that Visually seeing him roll down the Hill life list. Like I think it was killed somebody. And that took a long time to process too.

It's like, like, yeah, he was most likely an enemy combatant. Did I have PID arguable, but you know, I did what I did because I felt threatened and you know, Looking back on it that one's 11 years ago. And you know, I don't feel remorse over it now cause it's like, you don't know what, what that guy had.

Like here in the States, I'd hate to be a police officer because I think, you know, rules of engagement were strict over there, but you know, cops here have such a a real shit end of the deal, I think. And I experienced a little bit, a little bit of that there.

Chris: [00:26:05] Yeah. It's just, just the way it is, you know, it's, it sucks, but that's how it is.

Nick: [00:26:12] yeah, it's just the reality. And the rest of Iraq, there was, there was. This and that event that happened that, you know, nothing significantly notable you know, thankfully our brigade didn't lose anyone that deployment.

 And as far as Afghanistan you know, I'm happy I went, but a lot of the turmoil that, you know, I still deal with today, a good 80% of it is You know what happened in that such a short period of time, March to September of 2012 in Eastern Afghanistan, in Ghazni province you know, it was.

That was the point where I was like, this is a deployment where I'm going to die. And, and I don't mean that in a trivial or, or you know, dramatic way. Like the, the thought I had right around June was, you know, like this operation, that's going sideways in a unprecedented way up until that point. Like, this is what's. Like my parents are getting that knock on the door in a few days.

Cause I'm dying today and in the moment I fully believed it. So what happened was it was June ish and it was supposed to be a supply route simple there and back from our comp two. Every squadron of Calvary, at least with the 82nd has one infantry company attached to them, which was always Charlie company.

Alpha and Bravo, troops and headquarters was at C OP Bond. And then the infantry company was at COP Giro They were living more rustic than us. Not that we're living the Ritz, you know, lifestyle, but they, they were really rough in it. So whatever the situation was, we are going to resupply them.

I don't even remember what we were resupplying at the moment. But it was a ground operation. You know, we did the battle rehearsal you know, the different phase lines and check points, you know, we're stopping it. I think it was actually called Super FOB. Like that was the name of this in-between FOB that we were stopping at to refuel resupply before the last leg of the journey, the next day, it was supposed to be routine.

It was like a supplier. It was supplied mission. So it was like a hundred vehicles deep. So we're not tactical in my eyes were rolling. It. You know, 15 miles an hour or 20 miles an hour straight line distance. It was only 12 miles. The route that our S-2 node, which for the army is like the intelligence section S-2 said, this is the best route to go. initially I was responsible for rear security of the entire hundred truck element. And then a couple of other combat platoons sprinkled in between to protect the support vehicles. I don't even know where it started going sideways, but when it did, you know, it was IEDs and accurate mortar fire and accurate small arms and I was like, okay, this isn't, you know, this, this is a little crazy, but it's nothing too crazy.

But you know, as we started taking casualties and  medivacs and then days turned into night and then, you know it can came to a head the first time when I'm still pulling up the rear. And I was the platoon Sergeant. So with the army. At least in a combat patrol the platoon sergeant's vehicle is always the last vehicle in the convoy. We had two other platoon sergeants in the unit, but I just happened to be the one that was at the tail at the moment. And in front of me was to Hemet wreckers. And I just remember driving, it was dark. We're going under nods and these vehicles are, you know, We're all in MRAPs at this point in the war and these, these wrecker vehicles, these supply vehicles are just, you know, humongous military constructions.

And, if I had blinked, I would have missed it. But somewhere in the mountains that were immediately to our right, they set off, I don't know if it was victim operated or radio operated, but whatever the case, a Daisy chain IED. Blew up the truck in front of me and the truck in front of him. And, you know, MRAPs, you know, in those kinds of vehicles, they're fucking heavy, like tens of thousands of pounds.

And you would think these vehicles were made of papier-mache because these IEDs were I'm assuming they were HME. Cause that's what we always got hit with an Afghanistan and decimated the vehicles. One of them. My buddy sergeant Hayes and his driver. I can't remember where we're, you know, relatively speaking unfazed Sergeant Hoyim and his driver can't remember him.

They were in the truck immediately in front of me. And again, kind of like circling back. I was the platoon Sergeant. My role was. Stay in the truck, send up the sit rep, Send up the contact. And if you get a nine line from the guys on the ground, send it up to your commander and, you know, control the area.

Don't get involved in, at least that's how I was brought up as an NCO. And when I reached Platoon status, so I dropped the ramp. That was another frustration. We're a combat unit, but like, all right, I'm going to drop the ramp. Yup. Perfect time for someone just lug a grenade in there. You know, we're an RPG.

Cause the ramp drops at a snail's pace. So I dropped the ramp. My medic Mentor was in there and my buddy, who was my gunner, the previous employment on the El Rez with the situation I was describing earlier he was now my dismounted team leader. You know, it's, it's the fog of war. My, I don't know what I said, but essentially like go figure out what the casualties are and let me know. They get out there and whoever his driver was immediately in front of me, he was fucked up because he got out of the truck wasn't taking cover and he's kind of just wandering, you know, he's in shock, disoriented.

Chris: [00:32:39] Yeah, for sure.

Nick: [00:32:40] so I, yeah, I cracked the door and I knew his name at the time. Mostly it's Smith, like Smith, like, get the fuck over here.

What are you doing? Not connecting the dots that he's probably in shock and, you know, Maldonado and doc Menter are getting sergeant Hoyim out.  like, I jumped out of the truck and I grabbed the dude fucking bad idea. I don't know he was standing up, but you know, like the fireman carry, I grabbed him underneath and started to pick him up and he'd start screaming, bloody murder.

So like set him down and I'm like, like what's wrong. And fast forward to when we knew it was wrong and both his shoulders were broken. So when I. Try to firemen carry him. It was just excruciating. And, you know, I walked him to the back of the MRAP, loaded him up in it. He didn't know what the fuck was going on.

You know, all those common, like cognitive questions. Like what day is it? What's your name? What's your date of birth? Who's the president. I remember listening to doc Menter ask him and he didn't know a majority of these questions and sergeant Hoyim, the cab had gone up into the air and flipped over. So he was stuck with his seat belt on one of the only people to wear their seatbelt in a truck in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

So we had to cut his belt and you know, he's screaming. He's like, I can't feel anything. I can't feel anything. And you know, he looked, he wasn't in good shape and, you know, It's a fine it's a fine line between where, you want to rescue somebody and get them in the vehicle and get a medivac. But at the same time to get to that point, you have to cause them pain that you probably can't even comprehend. And we cut him. And, you know, we scream that time because he fell and he was a big dude, like a jacked dude like muscular and dragging them out on the fire side of the operation. There's no delicate way to rip them out.

We probably did more damage to him, but you know, there's no way around it. And we dragged him all the way to the driver's side of my truck, which was the safe side at the moment. And. No, we trio doc triaged as him and we get them on a, on a litter. And you know, I get back in the truck and I call the nine line up.

You know, we're getting fired out. There's mortars coming in. You know, it was just so kinetic and in such an unbelievable situation. We get them, medivaced probably 15, 30 minutes later, and then we had revolving Apache gunship coverage for the rest of the night. And it was deemed, we were mission ineffective.

We stayed in place until daybreak in our mine, our M RAP can't remember now Buffalo is, or, or the, he had the huge mine rollers on front to detect pressure plated IEDS those have been since blown up and those people had been medivaced hours before. And we had to fire call, right. We towed some of them.

And then some of them, we had to just blow in place. So the day broke my commander, it's like my call sign was chaos six. It's like chaos, six lax six, I'm like, Hey, what's up, sir? It's like, Hey, so your element is going to go ahead and lead us into Giro. And we're probably about, you know, three clicks away.

We were close Every lead vehicle up until that point had been decimated and every occupant had been medivaced and got it. Copy. And it was that moment where it's like, okay, like every other vehicle it's blown up so far has been. A vehicle it's more or less designed to take those huge rounds. My little MRAPs just going to get fucking decimated.

And it was like, this is, you know, is this going to be the day I die? You know? And I'm fucking 24, 25 at the time. Like, is this the day that I don't come home? And then I don't get my guys home. And I remember still to that day. And it's hard to talk about because I'm like, that's That's what's going to happen.

Like I'm going to die today and sore my guys it's my fault. And you know, I'm not religious whatsoever anymore, but somehow we made it, made it to Giro, the mission was complete failure because all the supplies we were going to take, or the vehicles that were blown up before they started attacking the combat vehicle.

So the mission was a complete waste. Of money and not to look at it like that, but it was tens of thousands, if not a few million for what? For a waste of quality of life, sergeant Hoyim. He ended up being paralyzed from the waist down to this day. And you know, the next leg was all right now we've got to get home, but we can't go back that way because we've got our shit pushed in.

So what way are we going now? Whatever way our S-2 said to go, we went and, you know, it was like, we didn't even get all our vehicles outside the wire to come home before we start getting fucked up again, like, dude, what is going on? And you know, you got to a point where I'm like, you know, calling my trucks, like, you know, give me a status on your ammo to my other truck commanders.

You know, like black, black, outta ammo, less than black, you know you know, 50 Cal, like the barrels turned and fucking blue. So can't, you know, warping the barrels. So we can't use the crew serves and, you know, down to personal M-4s like this, maybe I was naive, but I was like, it is 2012. Like this kind of combat doesn't happen.

But it was in the most gruesome and and it got to a point where our FO, our forward observer we had everything on station. It felt like for that short period of time the war was right there and we had every air asset that we could have wished for. And I don't say that as a good thing cause it's shit that we had to request it.

And. The only thing that saved us, I feel like is an F 16, did a dry run on the nap of the earth and didn't drop any munitions. But you know, you see a fixed wing coming in. The enemy knows that we have that at our disposal at the moment. So it kind of subsided everything going on, but you know, for those few hours a shift Strategic and they're methodical. And they knew the strategy by watching us over 10 years,

and it's like behind us, front of us, we're kind of Pinned in it. Now we can't go backwards. Now we can't go forward. And now we're getting mortared in RPG and small arms fire. It's like these guys are organized. The Taliban is not one to fuck with. I don't think. And I think the U S military for at least a certain number of years underestimated what the Taliban can do.

And I can never get over that.  You know, we made it back. The mission, like I said, it was a failure you know, My efforts and everyone else's of the command team was, was you know, recognized and, and, you know, awarded, you know, various commendations, but, you know, you know, it came at the expense of, you know, people's lives and livelihood.

And to this day I still hold such resentment because. whoever came up with the ops plan, did us a disservice at a cataclysmic level because such trauma for everybody, whether it be like mental or, you know, very physical disabilities or TBIs, like, I don't want to say someone's at fault because I feel like everyone put the best effort, their best foot forward.

But. At the same time I want to, I need to blame somebody because lives were shattered for that week. You know, and it only got worse from there.

And it, and it ultimately that's what broke it for me   and looking back, you know, Afghanistan is, is probably a deployment I shouldn't have gone on, but I felt obligated because they were asking me to like, can you extend your contract? You know, you know, we need the experience going into Afghanistan because other people had already PCs different assignments and whatnot. You know, can you stick out this deployment? you know, I, I, I did thinking it was, you know, it's fine.

It's going to be like my first two Iraq deployments, a little bit of, a little bit of a, you know, shit. But nothing like out of a movie, like it felt. And you know, when I got home so don't ask, don't tell was repealed late like mid 2011, but it didn't actually go into effect, I think until September or October of 2011.

And I came out, I was still in Afghanistan and I wrote an email and white parents and I was like, Hey, take your, leave. It that's it. Things were okay. My parents are like, falling off the right end of the spectrum politically. So I was expecting a bad reception with it, but it was as good as I could have expected.

And you know, when I got home told my mom, and this is like, don't come out. Like you need to let me decompress, to this day, probably one of my biggest Embarrassments and regrets, even though I couldn't help it. And there was a reason behind it, but she came to see me redeploy the States and she was in the house that I had just rented. And I don't even remember where this stemmed from, but, you know, she's my mom and I exploded on her. And I don't even remember. I don't even remember what we were talking about. I just, I was like, go the fuck back to Alabama. And I was. know there was a mental health reason behind it, but screaming at my mom.

Like she's done nothing but supported me, sent me care packages, love me to death, you know? And I just gave her the worst. Like it was embarrassing and You know, it's that moment. I didn't quite realize, like I got shit going on. I was like, I'm acting rationally. You know, my mom, she had it coming in the moment.

That's what I thought. And, you know, fast forward now it's been nine years since that happened. And you know, it's how shameful, you know even though, you know, blame it on PTSD or, you know Battle fatigue, whatever you want to call it. It's like in my head, like you, should've known better, like it's your fucking mother.

She doesn't deserve that. And I have since apologized to her and she'll probably watch this and start crying because, because she knows it was such a terrible you know, terrible time.

Chris: [00:44:16] If it makes you feel any better? I had almost the exact same thing happened. No one came home. No one was there when I got back from Iraq, but my dad surprised me coming home from Afghanistan and yeah, I was livid. So like you, you're just not ready to be a person around your family. You know, you need to hang out in the barracks, like drink a bunch, just kinda like get, get your feet back under you, you know, feel comfortable you know, So that you don't see trash on the road and think it's an IED.

You don't hear like artillery booming on the other side of the base and hit the deck. You know, it's, it's cool that people are so willing to come home and see people home. That's like very patriotic thing. And like, I'm sure, you know, they miss us as well. But man, that sucks. I couldn't imagine being the people that you'll go home to a spouse and kids like, nah, I, I could never have done that.

Nick: [00:45:08] no. And. Yeah. And that's a great example. Like at least I was single all the time and my mom ended up going home, but yeah, coming back to it immediate like art hun, like, you know? Yeah. We'll come back. Like, can you take the kids school day?

You know, it, it it takes years, you know, I'm still dealing with it and you know, where I am now compared to, you know, 2012 You know, I'm proud of myself, but you know, two weeks reintegration doesn't mean you're, you know, a okay. To hang out with the family again. You know, it takes a lot of work.

Yeah.

 

        So I was in the 82nd for seven and a half years. And I did recruiting for the last four and a half.

And It's it's weird to see that side of it. Cause yeah, recruiters are exactly as as advertised. But trying to break the mold from it you know, it was hard. The issues with the recruiting, I think of any branch, the issues are systemic. You know, you, you have a mission to meet a quota and it's either you sacrifice a piece of your career by not DEPing the required numbers for the month, some people that you are really proud of. Like they meet the requirements they can come in, but you'd be pissed if they came to your unit. And you know, it was a weird balancing act from it. So and I did recruiting in Nebraska. I requested the Denver battalion and I got the Denver battalion.

They're like, all right, cool. You're going to Carney. Like where the fuck is that in Colorado though? It gets not, you go, you're going to Carney, Nebraska, middle of nowhere. And I looked it up and I'm like, there is nothing you have to zoom out on Google maps, probably three, four times before you see like a major metropolitan area.

I recruited in Carney for three years, it's just a, a worker bee. And then there was a, they call it a center leader, like running an office. There was a center leader position opening up three hours, East and Omaha. And it was the same company. So I got with my first Sergeant, like, Hey, first Sergeant Barnes Millard, which is West Omaha, like Millard needs a center leader.

And right now you got. I don't remember her name, some female  that I couldn't stand. Like you got her running Millard right now. I just converted to be a permanent recruiter cause I, I, I really couldn't risk deploying again. It sounds like a shit bag thing, but the three deployments that just, whittled me down to know bare bones. I couldn't do a fourth deployment and. So like, yeah, like let's try and get you to Millard. So I got to Millard started running the office you know, all these issues that I think a lot of vets push down on the mental health side you know, push down for a reason. You got a broken leg, you got a TBI, you got this, that, and the other, I feel like, you know, unless it's incredibly severe. You, you could probably stay in and continue serving in some capacity, you know, recruiting, you know, some cadre positions, something. But I feel like as soon as you have some kind of significant mental health, like stamp on your med record, you know, you're fucking done. And I have been avoiding getting it looked at for so long. It's like, we're deploying, like, you know, it's not about me. It's about, it's about you know, you know, being the experienced senior NCO overseas, whereas all the junior guys coming in now deployments are fewer and far between. So like I owe it to like, sure, I owe to United States.

Sure. But I owe it to the guys that I'm training. I don't want to ditch them and they go over there and like, Oh, I'm gonna go chill in a recruiting office. So, you know, I, I was wanting to Do my part, we just got to a point I couldn't give anymore. And I took over that office was in that position, maybe four or five months. And I told that same first sergeant  like, Hey you know, I, I got some things going on. I'm having a hard time, you know, masking. And, you know, I think I need to, to talk to somebody and I don't want to say it because,

Chris: [00:49:14] Hmm.

Nick: [00:49:15] you know, like I said, it's going to torpedo your career and you know, started talking to someone at, off at air force base that was in Omaha and, you know, fast forward, like another five months.

And they're like, alright, well you know, you have, you know, PTSD and a handful of other mental health issues like, yeah, but I'm managing fine. Like that's why I came to recruiting. Like, I can do this. I just need help getting to a, a better space. And I'm good. Like, yeah. But if you're considered nondeployable, which I ended up being the Sergeant major of the army at the time Sergeant  Major, I think it was Sergeant Major Daily.

It's like, if you're nondeployable, you know, You got to get out. Like I've got almost 12 years in. Like I can't get out. Like I want to S I was devastated you know, fast forward, this was, I got medically retired Halloween in 2017 and the start of that year you know, they started the, the the medical board process and like, all right.

Yeah. So in short, you're getting medically retired and you know, start getting your affairs in order. And you know, it was devastating because cause my dad, he did 21 years and he reached, E-7  promotable by the time he retired that, okay, you can pin E-8, you know, but you gotta, you gotta commit another three for your billet.

And he's like, no, I'm good. Did 21 years did two deployments to Vietnam. It's like, I'm good. The goal was to always outrank him and I got to E-7. And you know, as he's seven for about a year before, maybe a little less before you know, I started my, my terminal leave and and yeah. Yeah, here we are.

Chris: [00:51:16] Yeah, that's tough, man. Talking about uh, you know, the way they. If you have that stamp on your record, that they're just like, Oh, this guy's, this guy's shaken up. Or, you know, whatever, whatever you want to call it. I don't know about you. We had to fill out big surveys when we would get back from deployments.

And it's like, are you sleeping well at night? How much, you know, how much do you drink on a daily basis? And everyone is like zero. Yeah. As everyone's drinking a 12 pack, plus every single night, it's. The whole system is designed to incentivize people to not get treated, to hide it, to lie, to let, to obfuscate.

And it's it's yeah, it's fucking everybody up. There's a reason that you know, my buddies who are still in there just like it's crazy, we're all E-7, E-8. And they're the only guys that have a combat action ribbon or, you know, a CIB for the

Nick: [00:52:07] Yeah,

Chris: [00:52:08] So like the only people who've made it this far, have never done the deployments and it's. It's just catastrophic.

Nick: [00:52:15] Right. And it's so surreal because now you know, the guys that, you know, it's only been four years, but I mean, in terms of, of you know, mental health and then people promoting and doing more high-speed shit in the latter part of their career and, and the the you know, upper and bill it's of command and, and I know all these people have kind of mental health issues, but you know, they want to stay in. So like you said, those questionnaires, like. How much do you drink? Do you have trouble sleeping? How many days a week do you feel sad?

Like, I can tell you, I feel sad one day a month and that would immediately send me to psych. So it's, it's like you said, it's, it's built to not work in your favor. I don't think, I mean, I'm sure there's a methodology behind it, but it scares people from seeking treatment. I'd rather lose a leg.

I mean, this is being overly dramatic, so not really, but I feel like you'd be able to stay in losing a leg significantly easier than someone saying like, yeah, you have PTSD or, you know, you have you know, some, some trauma based anxiety or what have you That's a scary diagnosis. Like, Oh, you're gonna amputate my leg.

Like, that's terrible, but there's a chance I might still serve, give me a mental health diagnosis. And you know, it's just in my case it was a fucking death sentence. So it was a

Chris: [00:53:38] Thanks. Thanks for talking to me here, Nick. I, I really appreciate you being real honest, telling these stories, you know, it's. Talking to a lot of people you can see where they kind of pumped the brakes and, and obviously you didn't do that. I really appreciate that, man. That's very cool.

Nick: [00:53:53] Sure. Yeah. I like what you're trying to do. Yeah. Bridging, bridging the gap because yeah, I think it needs to be done. Yeah.

Chris: [00:54:01] And if you have any organizations you want to promo, you know,

Nick: [00:54:05] I don't necessarily have any, any. Organizations that I vocally or staunchly support. I think I'm still trying to find myself with being so recently medically retired, you know, in my eyes anyway.

And you know, I'm trying to settle some things out within myself before you know, I, I, I venture out and you know, I guess expose myself to the elements that are, you know, veteran organizations. Probably has to do with a little bit of me being gay and in some of the stigmas that come from that you know, there's, there's character judgment in, and I think gay veterans and, and you know, I don't know if a lot of organizations are the mainstream ones or are quite there yet.

You know, I'm not your stereotypical let's say gay guy, but You know, it's a hard pill for someone to swallow and uh, you know, some of that discrimination I've experienced, so not quite ready to test the waters with any vet organizations that you know, might not be supportive or you know, neutral about it.

So

Chris: [00:55:04] Yeah. That's that's totally fair, man. It's again, you're just very honest guy. I appreciate that.

Nick: [00:55:11] for sure, man, no problem.

Chris: [00:55:13] Nice talking to you.

Nick: [00:55:14] Man. You too.

 

    Chris: [00:55:16] All right, that's it for today's show. I want to thank Nick again for being so candid. The military has such a culture, strength and bravado that it makes talking openly about having a hard time, pretty taboo, but it's clear that Nick can take that strength and put it into talking about the things he's experienced.

I say this all the time. But the people who talked to me on this show, they never stopped being leaders. And Nick is just another amazing example of that. Okay. Well, I hope you enjoyed this episode and I'll see you next time.