The Iowa National Guard confirmed Thursday that one soldier died and another was wounded in an attack in Afghanistan. Guard spokesman, Colonel Greg Hapgood says it happened Wednesday at 11 a.m. local time in Afghanistan.
Hapgood says 21-year-old Specialist Donald Nicols of Shell Rock was in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MATV) in the Laghman Province that was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Nicols died and another soldier, 24-year-old Specialist Timothy Gourd of Prescott was wounded.
Hapgood says Nicols and Gourd are with the 1st Battalion 133rd Infantry based in Waterloo. They were in a group of vehicles on a patrol when the device exploded. He says there were two other soldiers in the vehicle, but those two got out to patrol on foot just before the blast.
This is the second death this week of an Iowa Guard member — Brent Maher of Honey Creek died Monday when a bomb exploded under his vehicle. Three soldiers were also wounded in that attack.
Hapgood says the two deaths in one week come after the 2,800 Iowa soldiers in the deployment sent just 12 people home with injuries since arriving in on the ground in November.
Hapgood says the record thus far is very indicative of the training the soldiers have received and the expertise at what they do. But he says,”It’s an extremely dangerous place and the one thing that we stress with our soldiers during deployment, is regardless of how much time you have left, you can never get complacent, and this certainly crystallizes that.” He says you constantly have to be aware of your surroundings and use every tool that you got at your disposal and that “every day over there is dangerous.”
Nicols graduated from Waverly-Shell Rock High School in 2009. He had joined the guard in March of 2008. Andrew Brown of Atlantic is a cadet at the University of Northern Iowa who trained with Nicols.
He talked about his friend Thursday, and there is one thing he will remember about him. “His smile, he was just always smiling,” Brown says, “he just brought like a light to our platoon.” He says Nicols always had a notebook out and was eager to learn. “He would have gone far, I know that for sure,” Brown said.
Brown says he was very upset to hear about Nicols’ death. Brown says he found out Thursday morning and was really sad. He says the Army is like a big family and Nicols felt like a brother.
The Iowa soldiers won’t come home until November and Hapgood says the families of those still on duty have to have faith in the soldiers’ ability. Hapgood says the families have to rely on the fact that the soldiers are highly trained, very professional and good at what they do, they are well led, and they have the best equipment that money can buy. He says those factors together make their ability to go through the year deployment and come home unscathed, rise exponentially.
Hapgood says Nicols has a brother Joe who is in the Army in Afghanistan.
The family of Nichols issued the following statement:
“It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of our beloved son, brother and friend during combat in Afghanistan. Don died doing what he loved, serving his country and protecting the freedom that we enjoy and providing the people of Afghanistan with the opportunity for freedom.
We are proud of Don’s accomplishments and those of his fellow Iowa National Guard Soldiers and all of the military serving our country. Don was making a difference in the lives of the Afghan people, and was proud of it. As shocked as we are by his death, we are deeply appreciative of the outpouring of support shown by his fellow Soldiers, his family, friends and the community during this difficult time.
We are sure that you can understand and will honor our request for family privacy at this time, as we are focused on working with military officials to return Don’s body home for military services and burial. We thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and kindness at this extremely difficult time. We are deeply saddened by our loss, but extremely proud of the honorable way he served America as a leader in the U.S. Army. We will remember him, his sense of humor, his “snarky” attitude, and his love for his family, friends and his country, with great pride.”