Donald L Nichols
Shell Rock, Iowa
April 13, 2011
Killed in Laghman province, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device.
|From WCF Courier wfcourier.com
Spc. Donald L. "Donny" Nichols (1989-2011)
|Iowa guardsman killed in Afghanistan
By Tony Leys
The Des Moines (Iowa) Register
Iowa National Guard leaders for the second time this week announced that one of their soldiers had been killed by an insurgent’s bomb in Afghanistan.
The latest casualty was Spc. Donald Nichols, 21, of Shell Rock. Another soldier, Spc. Timothy Gourd, 24, of Prescott, was injured in the April 13 attack.
The men were in an armored truck hit by a bomb in the road, said Col. Gregory Hapgood, a Guard spokesman. The incident happened in Laghman province, near the capital city of Mehtar Lam, which holds the headquarters for the men’s battalion, the 1-133rd Infantry.
Nichols’ death was the second among the 2,800 Iowa National Guard troops who deployed to eastern Afghanistan. The first was Spc. Brent Maher, 31, of Honey Creek, who died April 11 when his armored truck was hit by a bomb in Paktia province. Three other soldiers were injured in that attack.
Gourd was being treated for unspecified injuries in Afghanistan, Hapgood said. Two of the three men injured April 11 have been transferred to a military hospital in Germany.
Nichols’ brother Joe is stationed in Afghanistan with the Army Reserve, Hapgood said.
During a news conference at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa, a friend recalled Nichols as a cheerful soldier who was always up for an all-night poker game.
“He just brought like a light to our platoon,” said Cadet Andrew Brown. “He was just always happy-go-lucky. He wasn’t really loud. He always had his notebook out. He always wanted to learn. He would have gone far, I know that for certain.”
Nichols’ fiancee, Chelsey Bliss, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the couple spoke by phone the night before his death. He was “happy and talking about coming home soon,” said Bliss, a University of Iowa student who had dated Nichols since they were freshmen at Waverly-Shell Rock High School. “He was so sweet, amazing. He was the coolest guy ever.”
Bliss said her boyfriend joined the Army during his junior year in high school.
“He could have gotten straight A’s” if he’d concentrated as much on school as he did on preparing for military service, she said. “He was proud to go over there, proud to be with his guys.”
Hapgood said that shortly before Nichols’ and Gourd’s truck was hit, two other soldiers left the vehicle to patrol on foot. He said other vehicles and soldiers were nearby, taking part in a routine patrol.
The soldiers’ truck was an M-ATV model of the Army’s new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. The M-ATV, which weighs 16 tons, is more nimble than other models, but it is smaller and slightly more vulnerable to bombs.
Flags were flying at half staff at Waverly-Shell Rock High School to honor Nichols, who was a 2009 graduate. Principal Ken Winter said Nichols was known for artistic talent. “He was a very good student,” Winter said.
Nichols is survived by his mother and stepfather, Roger and Becky Poock of Waterloo; his father and stepmother, Jeff and Jeanie Nichols of Shell Rock; his brothers, Nick of Waterloo, and Joe; and his grandmothers, Kay Secor and Carol Buchholz, and his grandfather, Donald L. Nichols, all of Waterloo.
Guard leaders have said they were bracing for increased violence in Afghanistan once spring brought a return of the annual “fighting season.”
The two Iowa Guard deaths this week were the most in a five-day span since Sept. 30, 2006. Two Guard members died during a firefight in Iraq on that day. They were Staff Sgt. Scott Nisely, 48, of Marshalltown and Spc. Kampha Sourivong, 20, of Iowa City.
More than 1,500 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan since the war there began nearly a decade ago. The Iowa National Guard has lost 19 soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003.
|Hometown bids farewell to fallen soldier
By Staci Hupp
The Des Moines (Iowa) Register
WAVERLY, Iowa — Donny Nichols was branded a man growing up in Shell Rock for his love of Jeeps, the Minnesota Vikings and the Army.
The young soldier will be remembered as a man because of his bravery, never-quit attitude and love for his country.
Spc. Donald Lee Nichols, 21, was killed April 13 when an insurgent’s bomb struck the armored truck he was driving on a gravel road in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan.
His death was the second among the 2,800 Iowa National Guard troops who deployed to the area last fall. Services for Sgt. Brent Maher of Honey Creek were April 22.
The people who cheered Nichols on the football field and on the wrestling mat filled the bleachers again April 23 to salute their hero and say goodbye.
Hundreds of mourners filled the Waverly-Shell Rock High school gymnasium, where they heard Nichols’ fellow soldiers describe a man whose commitment to his country’s freedom was far greater than his fear of death.
Soldiers in pressed uniforms filled the rows near Nichols’ family. Gov. Terry Branstad sat among them.
Several soldiers were granted leave from Afghanistan to pay their respects, including Nichols’ older brother, a pallbearer. Joe Nichols is stationed in southern Afghanistan with the Army Reserve.
Joe Nichols flew home on the airplane that also carried his brother’s body. A tribute he wrote on the trip home was read by chaplain Mike Crawford.
“We were supposed to come home together and tell stories and joke about the things that only we could understand,” Joe Nichols wrote.
“If I would have known that I was going to be 10,000 feet in the air, on a plane with my little brother’s body under my feet, I would go back to every time we ever got a chance to talk to each other and tell him how much I respected and loved him. And he should never look up to me, but I should look up to him because he is a true hero.”
Donny Nichols’ tearful fiancee, Chelsey Bliss, read a poem about fallen soldiers. Before she walked away from the podium, she said about her high school sweetheart: “He wanted to do so much.”
Hundreds more well-wishers lined the streets in and around Waverly. They waved American flags, saluted, and wiped away tears as a hearse carried Nichols’ casket to a cemetery in Cedar Falls.
Handmade signs read: “Thanks Don Nichols” and “RIP fallen soldier.”
Nichols was a member of the Iowa Guard’s 1-133rd Battalion. His reconnaissance platoon often patrolled around Combat Outpost Najil, one of the most violent areas any Iowa Guard unit is manning in Afghanistan.
On one mission, when Nichols severely injured his knee, he turned down offers to carry his rucksack because he wanted to carry his own weight.
“He always pushed himself to be better, he motivated his teammates, he always exceeded the standard,” Lt. Col. Steve Kremer wrote in a tribute read at the memorial service.
Nichols also knew the importance of laughter, his fellow soldiers said. He loved to sing karaoke and play poker, they said.
Nichols joined the Army during his junior year of high school. He had been an instructor in charge of preparing his unit for its arrival in Afghanistan last October.
He is survived by his mother and stepfather, Roger and Becky Poock of Waterloo; his father and stepmother, Jeff and Jeanie Nichols of Shell Rock; his brothers, Nick of Waterloo, and Joe; and his grandmothers, Kay Secor and Carol Buchholz, and his grandfather, Donald L. Nichols, all of Waterloo.
Nichols’ life story might be short, said Crawford, the chaplain. But it’s full of courage, commitment and determination.
He shared a quote that Nichols lived by: “It’s not how hard you get knocked down, it’s about how quick you get up and keep on fighting.”
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