Corporal Todd Nicely, USMC, doesn’t take life lying down. He doesn’t come off to anyone as a morose guy who feels sorry for himself. That’s a good thing, since he lost most of all four limbs in an encounter with a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010. He’s one of only five veterans (as of 2016) to survive the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a quadruple amputee.
It’s essential to know this about Todd Nicely, before taking in the update that he shot himself this week after reportedly getting the run-around from the Veterans Administration crisis hotline. He’s recovering, according to the latest news from Friday, 3 June; he didn’t succeed in killing himself. But in frustration at a situation whose particulars we don’t fully know*, he did try.
Matt at Freedom Daily has the story, including a post by fellow wounded warrior Bobby Henline about Nicely’s experience with the VA crisis hotline.
Let’s just think about that for moment:
Todd tried calling a Crisis Hotline all weekend, but he kept getting the runaround from them and they told him to call back when he becomes less irate.
So who is Todd Nicely? Is he a malingerer? A gadfly? An annoyance to our civil servants?
Constitution.com has some of his story, conveying with words and pictures that he puts himself out there, and, along with his wife Crystal (also a Marine), lives life to the fullest six years after the fateful day in Afghanistan.
But advocate and author Michael Kerrigan is the go-to chronicler of Todd Nicely, in my view. Kerrigan runs the Character Building Project, and in 2012 published the book Courage in America: Warriors with Character. Todd Nicely is one of his “warriors with character,” and according to Kerrigan, Nicely had a profound influence on his view of character and his interest in profiling wounded warriors as exemplars of it.
Kerrigan cites Todd Nicely as one of his most important examples of what he (Kerrigan) calls “post-traumatic growth,” or PTG.
To understand who Nicely is, we can’t do better than quote a few passages from Michael Kerrigan’s blog posts about him between 2011 and 2013.
Some background on Todd:
Todd was born in 1984 with little military history in his family with the exception of his grandfather’s service during the Korean War. Todd was raised in a happy family with five other siblings. He kicked around from job to job in the construction industry somewhat aimlessly before beginning his military career.
In 2007 Todd’s perspective was soon to change when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at a ripe age of 23. Todd told me the Marine Corps changed him as a person, giving him direction, teaching him the responsibility of “taking care of your guys” and “demonstrating the value of discipline.” Soon after boot camp and completion of the Marine Rifleman Course at Infantry school, Todd was given a military occupational specialty (MOS) as an rifleman. …
Todd carefully described his first year as a “saw gunner,” the carrier of the squad’s automatic weapon (machine gun). … As the senior guys moved out of the squad, they offered their recommendations to the Lieutenant about who should step up to replace them in the line of responsibility. Corporal Nicely quickly found himself being chosen and given greater responsibility for his men, a responsibility he took seriously in combat with the Taliban…
His priorities and creed in combat:
Nicely’s first impulse is the welfare of his men. He proudly stated that while all of his group were younger than he was, they lacked nothing in character. All had the courage to run toward the bullets with him.
On 26 March 2010 while taking the point on patrol crossing a bridge, Todd fatefully detonated forty pounds by stepping on a pressure plate of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The blast blew Todd well over the bridge down to the river below. Amazingly, Todd told me his first thought was not to scream for fear of “spooking his men.” Also, Todd stated if this was his last act, “he did not want his men to be negatively impacted by memories of Todd screaming.” Todd kept silent. He figured “if he just kept breathing, he would eventually make it back to Crystal”, his wife waiting for him in the States. Nicely did not open his eyes again until days later, in front of family, at a military hospital in Germany. But the injuries were severe. Corporal Nicely not only lost his arms, but his legs too…
His attitude and accomplishments in rehabilitation:
Corporal Nicely has approached therapy with the same focus he showed on the battlefield. Upon arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a home filled with heroes, Todd was told it would take at least one year of physical and occupational rehabilitation to master use of each prosthesis. Well 18 months after arriving, he will soon be released [this post was in 2011 – J.E.], having regained his driver’s license, experienced downhill skiing in Colorado, running five miles a day, and having just completed competing in a “hope and possibility” race in Central Park. …
“I do feel lucky,” says Nicely. “I could be one of the casualties, but instead, I’m going to be a normal functioning human here.”
Nicely maintains his positive outlook by attributing a lot of credit to his wife Crystal, and a little bit to not feeling sorry for himself. …
In his “spare time,” Corporal Nicely visits the “new guys” in their beds at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He tells them that there is “hope beyond the bed” and that he is living proof. Todd sees these acts of kindness as his “responsibility to pay it forward.”
Todd’s own thoughts about what gives him satisfaction and hope, written on the second anniversary of his traumatic injury:
“Today I woke up at 7 a.m. to use my Nustep Machine. For the first time in months, I went for a two-mile run. I did this today to remind myself that two years ago today all of my limbs may have been taken from me, but my will to live and my personality was not. As I ran down the path, cars passed and I wondered what they thought as they watched a person running, covered in artificial limbs. Then I slowly started to think back on my six months in Afghanistan, and I wondered what they were doing on this very day two years ago. If they could have looked in on Afghanistan like they looked out of their car windows this morning, they would have seen a man loving his country and serving his country by losing all his limbs to war. They would have seen a person so resolutely loving life and willing to live that he was able to get to today and be jogging down the road.
“The approval of passer-bys is not what I seek two years after my injury. What keeps me going is the deep satisfaction I get from knowing that today, just like two years ago, I Corporal Todd Nicely gave my best to serve my country.”
Todd Nicely’s story is a reminder of some very important things. First, these are our wounded warriors: men and women of character and courage whose simple satisfaction is that they gave their best to serve their country.
Second, even with the best of attitudes, our returning warriors have to contend with emerging anxieties, fears, and frustrations that most of us can only imagine — but don’t have a similar experience of. The trajectory of “post-traumatic growth” isn’t necessarily a smooth, upward curve. But wounded warriors don’t need us to feel sorry for them. They richly merit our respect and assistance.
Third, the Veterans Administration has an extensively documented, terrible record of responding disrespectfully and unhelpfully to our veterans, including some of our most badly wounded warriors.
There may be some ambiguity in exactly what happened in this situation of Todd Nicely’s, but there are too many other instances of faithless execution by the VA for us to dismiss the worst-case possibility. (See the Freedom Daily and Constitution.com links, as well as here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
The shameful treatment our veterans get in too many cases from the VA is not representative of the American people’s character or intentions. Todd Nicely gave his best to serve America. Please find your congressman at the link here, and let America do her best for Todd, and all the other wounded warriors and vets who have given so much, “above and beyond the call of duty.”
* Bobby Henline, who put up the original Facebook post, added another one on Friday morning in which he apologized for his hasty tone. If you read the comments at that second post, it appears that Todd Nicely is getting help now. It’s not clear what part of his original post Henline felt he needed to apologize for. In the interest of completeness, I wanted to add this information.
Todd’s mother updated his Facebook page on Friday afternoon with this message:
This is Todds Mom and we are trying to answer everyone’s posts and messages and voice messages as we can and they’re coming in faster than we can answer. Todd is doing fine he’s going to be OK, thank you for your prayers and comments and for being good friend to him