Polk NCO story proof that heroes still exist, inspire
February 26, 2010
- Army journalist feels fortunate to meet 'real hero'
FORT POLK, La. -- Newspaper writers are taught to be objective in their reporting. We are urged to avoid getting "too close" with the subject of our work, to shun the use of first-person pronouns and keep away from editorializing, or giving personal opinions, about the people or topics we cover.
Sometimes that is easier said than done.
If faced with a situation where, despite a reporter's best intentions, they find it impossible to keep from getting caught up with the person or persons in their story, they can share their feelings and thoughts through a column, often referred to as an op-ed - or opinion, editorial piece.
After spending the morning with Staff Sgt. Nathan Brown, I find myself in just such a situation.
Brown's story is one of those "feel-good" tales of the hero who defies the odds and overcomes a debilitating injury to continue his military career and serve as an inspiration to others. In the 29-year-old Utah native's case, it was remaining on active duty to train Soldiers heading to war after losing the lower portion of his right leg to a land mine on a snow-covered bridge in Iraq.
While that in itself was a story worth telling, it was Brown's attitude that, to this reporter, was an even better story.
To put it simply, Brown wanted no attention. He didn't think he, or what he was doing, was anything special. That was evident by the first thing the Army Ranger told me during our introduction.
"I didn't have anything to do with this," he said, staring down and shuffling his boots in Fort Polk's dusty Peason Ridge training area. "This is the sergeant major's deal; he told me to do this."
The "this" Brown referred to was telling his story about the loss of the lower portion of his right leg, and his determination to remain on active duty.
This shunning of attention was also evident as I watched Brown, who once competed in and finished the Army's Best Ranger competition at Fort Benning, Ga., while he accompanied a squad of Soldiers across a simulated battlefield during a live-fire exercise. There was no hamming it up for the camera or drawing attention to himself during the "battle."
Brown went quietly about his work, teaching the Soldiers entrusted to him how to survive during an unconventional war in which it is often hard to distinguish the enemy from the civilian population. He could be seen leaning down close to Soldiers in prone fighting positions, helping them to maintain their cover. He could also be seen running with the squad from fighting position to fighting position.
Finally, it was evident by the actions of the Soldiers assigned to work with Brown as trainers in Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center's Operations Group. They picked at Brown unmercifully, saying things like, "we all fall at times out here, but when Brown falls, he really bites it." But it was all good-natured fun. The Soldiers eagerly sought to have their photos taken - with Brown. A couple of them even asked me to take their picture with Brown and told me, "These aren't for publication; these are for us."
In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee are discussing heroes in epic tales. They wonder if heroes go looking for fame and glory. Sam decides heroes are just normal, everyday people who find themselves in situations that require them to do heroic deeds. He tells Frodo, "Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back but they didn't. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. There is some good in this world mister Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."
Sam could have been talking about Brown when he spoke those words. He has certainly had the opportunity to turn back - the Army would have been more than happy to give him a medical discharge - but he didn't.
He keeps going, because he is holding on to something.
"I stayed in because I can," Brown told me. "I'm a Ranger and it's what we do."
And finally, he sees the good in the world and knows it's worth fighting for.
"I hope one day to become a platoon sergeant and go back to Iraq and help finish this war," he said. "Rangers lead the way."
Yes, this was a story that I allowed myself to get caught up in a bit, but can you blame me' It's not often you get the chance to meet a real hero.