Spc. Donald L. Nichols, 21, of Shell Rock, Iowa, was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) during a routine mounted patrol in Afghanistan's Mehtar Lam District, Laghman Province. The incident occurred approximately 11 a.m. local time, Wed., April 13. The other occupant of the four-wheeled armored vehicle at the time, Spc. Timothy R. Gourd, 24, of Prescott, was injured in the attack. Two other passengers had previously dismounted and were outside the vehicle when the blast occurred.
Iowa National Guard officials made the public announcement at a 7 p.m., Thurs., April 14, press conference at Camp Dodge, Johnston.
Both soldiers are members of Headquarters and Headquarters Company (H.H.C.), 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Waterloo.
Nichols' is the second death of a soldier assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division since the 2,800-member unit arrived in Afghanistan last November. The first was Sgt. Brent M. Maher, 31, of Honey Creek, Iowa, who was deployed 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.). Maher was also killed earlier this week by an IED attack, but in Paktiya Province.
The Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV, pronounced "M.A.T.V.") involved in Wednesday's incident is one of the newest and most-advanced types of wheeled armored vehicles in the U.S. Army inventory. During the press conference, guard officials said the initial information they received did not indicate that there was a gunner in the vehicle at the time of the attack, and did not indicate there was any type of attack other than the explosive device.
Nichols was an Infantry soldier, and a member of the 1-133rd Infantry's scout platoon--a smaller group of soldiers within the battalion, who are specially trained in "sneak and peak" reconnaissance missions. Cadet Andrew Brown of Atlantic, Iowa, was an enlisted scout team leader who served with Nichols before the deployment. "[The scouts were] usually your soldiers who were in better physical shape," he said at the Thursday night press conference. "The 'best of the best,' so to speak."
Brown recalled Nichols as a quick-to-laugh, eager-to-learn soldier. "He always had his notebook out," Brown said. Egged on by Nichols, some of the scouts would routinely conduct all-night poker sessions during drill weekends.
In a written statement made through the Iowa National Guard, the Nichols family said, in part: "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."
According to a report earlier in the day by the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, flags at Waverly-Shellrock High School flew at half-staff in honor of Nichols, who was a 2009 graduate of the school.
Nichols is surved by his mother and father, Robert and Becky Pook of Waterloo; his father and mother, Jeff and Jeanie Nichols of Shell Rock; his fianceé, Chelsey Bliss of Waverly; and brothers Joe, an Army Reservist currently stationed in Afghanistan but not on the Red Bull deployment, and Nick of Waterloo.
During the press conference, guard spokesman Hapgood complimented Red Bull soldiers' training and professionalism, and urged they remain vigilant until their return to Iowa later this summer.
"Certainly, when you have 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan harm's way, every day, we count our blessings that they've had not only a very successful mission, but a very safe mission," said Hapgood. "Up until now, we've only evacuated 12 soldiers with injuries, prior to this week. I think that's very much indicative of the training these soldiers have received, and their expertise at what they do."
"Suffice it to say, it's an extremely dangerous place," he told reporters. "One thing that we stress with our soldiers during a deployment is that, regardless of how much time you have left, you can never get complacent. This [IED attack] certainly crystalizes that. You have to constantly maintain awareness of your surroundings, and use every tool at your disposal. Every day over there is dangerous."