By Nichole RileyMarch 20, 2007
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Army News Service, March 20, 2007) - A Fort Jackson first sergeant has seen and experienced many different things in his nearly 20-year Army career as airborne, air assault, Ranger and pathfinder, but he never imagined that he would literally have to learn to "see" again.
First Sgt. Charles Nye, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, lost more than sleep one December night in 2003 while deployed from Fort Campbell with the 187th Infantry Regiment "Rakkasans" to Iraq, when a car bomb exploded outside of his building.
He lost his left eye, and temporarily lost vision in his right eye, as well as other injuries. Because nothing could be done to save his left eye, he received a prosthetic eye through multiple surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Nye's injuries occurred after just returning from an all-night patrol in Tel Afar. He had been asleep for about 15 or 20 minutes when machine-gun fire rattled outside the window.
"I jumped up and started to get my boots on and then there was a flash across the room about 10 feet away," Nye said. "I didn't hear the explosion; I just saw the flash and hit the floor, and then I was blind."
His initial thought was that they had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. They soon learned that a car bomb had rocked everyone in the building.
"I never felt any pain, I was slurring my words and I could taste blood, but I was afraid to touch my face - I didn't think I had a face to touch," Nye said.
He knew the other two in the room had survived because he heard his first sergeant yell out to them for accountability. While he was lying there waiting for help, his interpreter picked him up, wrapped a T-shirt around his head and guided him to where the medics were treating the wounded.
"At that point I was freaked out and the shock hit, then they started pushing morphine and cleaned up my right eye and taped it up and I realized I could see out of that eye," Nye said.
Nye was later told that despite being one of the worst injured, he sat up and he tried to calm everyone else down, but he doesn't remember that. He doesn't recall much about his trip back to the U.S., because of shock and medication, except the plane ride with other wounded Soldiers. He remembers not wanting to look in the mirror on the plane for fear of what he might see.
"I was really scared of not knowing. I just didn't know what I was going to see and that scared me," he said. He eventually made himself look, but did not realize that he had lost his eye until he was in Germany. No one wanted to tell him, so he asked the doctor, who told him yes.
"That moment was so very hard for me," Nye said. "I just laid for a while in shock, and then looked in the mirror again and told myself that I would get through this."
He then transferred to Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., where he met his doctors, saw his family and found out he could get a prosthetic eye. He has had four reconstructive surgeries, with one remaining.
"It has been a long journey recovering, learning how to drive and get my depth perception back," Nye said. "I am not as self conscious as I used to be about it, but it does bother me."
Nye said he is glad he was the only one who needed to be evacuated, and that no Soldiers in his unit were hurt badly or killed by the blast. "I don't like it when my guys get hurt."
When his unit deployed to Iraq for a second tour, it was decided that he would be better off leaving the unit.
"That upset me. It broke my heart because I was ready to go and I would go right now if they would let me," Nye said. "I am what I am - I am a Soldier - that is what I do and I want to keep going."
Becoming a first sergeant in a Basic Combat Training company was vastly different from what he used to do.
"I have never been around anyone outside of infantry, so it is the first time I've had to work with women. It has taken a bit of getting used to," Nye said.
He is somewhat envious of the young Soldiers just entering the Army because he knows he is on his way out. "I just want to impress on them that it is a really good thing that they are here, and setting them up on their path is inspiring."
Nye inspires his peers every day.
"Although losing your eye for your country would be enough to break the strongest heart and spirit, Nye's spirit did not break," said Capt. Jason Murray, commander, Co. A, 2nd Bn., 60th Inf. Reg. "He is inspirational to other Soldiers."
One of the company's drill sergeants agrees.
"I must say drill sergeant duty is the hardest job I have had in the military and without 1st Sgt. Nye, I don't think I could have made it," said Sgt. 1st Class Evelyn Gunter, drill sergeant, Co. A, 2nd Bn., 60th Inf. Reg. "He brightens the day at physical training formation before the sun even comes up and he is a constant motivator throughout the day. He is my hero!"
Nye has been at Fort Jackson for two years and will retire in October. He has been awarded a Purple Heart and two bronze stars with a V for valor for his actions of bravery as a Soldier.
"Chuck Nye is the epitome of a warrior. He's a living example of what we are trying to instill in the young Soldiers that we transform here in BCT," said Lt. Col. Michael Minor, commander, 2nd Bn., 60th Inf. Reg.
His advice for his young Soldiers is, if they are going to go for it - go all the way and enjoy the whole adventure.
(Nichole Riley is associate editor of the Fort Jackson "Leader.")