Polk NCO overcomes obstacle to lead way
February 26, 2010
- Soldier who limb in combat says, "I fall, but everyone falls"
- Stays in Army because Rangers lead way
FORT POLK, La. -- It's hard enough being a Soldier with two good legs.
You have to run, jump, climb, squat and swim - and that's while you're still in garrison. Add to that field duty where you've got to dodge trees, navigate uneven terrain, avoid local critters and evade the enemy.
Now, try doing it with just one leg.
You might think it sounds impossible, but don't even mention that word to Fort Polk's Staff Sgt. Nathan Brown. Brown, a 12-year Army veteran, was deployed with the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Airborne), in Iraq on Dec. 7, 2006. While traveling in a convoy and crossing a snow-covered bridge, Brown's vehicle ran over a land mine.
"I was more worried about my gunner than about me," Brown said. "He was folded up like a pretzel."
After deploying the rest of his squad to form a security perimeter around the vehicle, Brown said he told his Soldiers not to engage civilian targets, then helped pull his gunner out of the vehicle.
"Then I put in a dip (of smokeless tobacco)," he said. "I thought I had sprained my right ankle, then I went into shock."
As it turned out, Brown's injury was much more than a sprain - the mine had shattered his right tibia and the bones in his right foot. For the next 2 A,A1/2 years, military doctors operated nine times on Brown's lower right leg in an attempt to save it, but to no avail. Midway through 2009, surgeons removed Brown's lower right leg. While some might have felt sorry for themselves, Brown took the opposite approach.
"Every day I ask myself the question 'What would the old Sergeant Brown do''" he said.
Brown said he found his answer in Rocky Balboa, the character portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in the "Rocky" movies.
"I know the answer: He would have kicked ass because it ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward," the 29-year-old Utah native said. "Rocky said that."
Brown said it only makes sense that his attitude would be one of "don't quit."
"I was always hard on my Joes," he said. "I would tell them 'Never say I can't, never quit.'"
Brown said there was never a question of whether or not he would try to stay on active duty instead of opting for a medical retirement.
"It (the Army) is the only thing I know and I'm good at being a Soldier," he said. "I enjoy being in the Army and I enjoy training Soldiers. I want to pass on my knowledge about what works."
Brown admits there are certain challenges to his current job as a trainer with Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group that did not exist before his injury. His job requires that he move across a simulated battlefield with Soldiers during live fire exercises at Fort Polk's Peason Ridge training area.
"I have been known to fall, but everyone falls," he said.
But Staff Sgt. Otis Lee, a teammate of Brown's, is quick to add - with a smile, "But when he falls he really bites it."
Lee said he is impressed with Brown's attitude.
"He asks for no favoritism and he gets none," Lee said. "He does his job."
In fact, Lee said Brown's leg is not something he and the other trainers think about.
"He's one of us," Lee said. "We all pick at each other all the time. He's got the best attitude that you could expect. He doesn't let it limit him in any way."
Command Sgt. Maj. Emmett Maunakea is in charge of Brown and his fellow trainers. He said Brown is the epitome of a dedicated and driven Soldier.
"He is a shining example of all that is good in the NCO Corps," Maunakea said. "He never allows his injury to dictate his abilities while on duty."
Maunakea said Brown demands the same treatment as every other NCO.
"He never complains and is always striving to, and is successful at, accomplishing the mission or task at hand," Maunakea said. "He makes his fellow Soldiers push themselves harder simply by his presence. "I am deeply honored to know Staff Sergeant Brown and am lucky to have him assigned to my unit. He is an asset."
Brown, who once finished the Best Ranger competition held annually at Fort Benning, Ga., said he is unsure if he will stay in the Army for 20 years.
"That's another question I ask myself every day," he said. "At this point, I don't know; I do know I'd like to be a platoon sergeant and go back to Iraq."
When asked why he felt it was important to stay in the Army, Brown's first response was, "I want to give back to the Army because of how much they've given me. That's kind of cheesy, isn't it'"
He thought for a moment and added, "I stayed in because I can. I'm a Ranger and Rangers lead the way.
"If I could go back 12 years and start over, knowing how it would turn out, I would do the same thing. I love what I do; I love being a Ranger."