A Soldier’s Story
When Army Cpl. Nickolas “Nick” Edinger looks down at where his left foot used to be, the 2005 Crater High School graduate doesn’t give it much thought.
“I am not going to let this slow me down at all,” stresses Edinger, 22, of Central Point, in a telephone interview from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“If I let the fact a bomb took away my foot beat me in any way, shape or form, then that is letting the guy who put that bomb there beat me,” he adds. “And I’m not going to let that happen. Never. I’ve got a life to live.”
Yet the son of Scott and Liz Edinger of Central Point realizes he is exceedingly lucky. He knows full well the powerful improvised explosive device he stepped on early in the afternoon of March 30 in a remote village in southern Afghanistan easily could have taken the life he intends to live.
“Hey, I’m real fortunate,” he says. “There are people here missing a piece of every limb. There is a kid who has half of both thighs, missing one arm at the elbow and the other at the wrist. He is figuring out how to make it.
“You got someone like that, well, who am I to say my problems are big?”
Edinger joined the Army two years ago next month to earn GI Bill benefits for college. He planned to pursue a medical career after completing his hitch. Before donning a military uniform, he worked for two years at Rogue Valley Medical Center, helping move patients in the emergency room as well as the critical care unit, an experience that would help him keep his cool March 30.
A member of Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C., the corporal was deployed to Afghanistan last September as part of an effort to take the fight to the Taliban strongholds in remote areas of that country.
Before shipping out, the young soldier came home on leave early in July — Independence Day, no less — to marry his high school sweetheart, Lindsay Mansur, a 2006 Crater graduate.
Edinger’s unit spent four months in the Helmand Province, where they helped tame an area where the Taliban had a strong presence.
“We were in around Margow where there was all that trouble,” he says.
Late in December found them in the Arghandab River Valley, where more trouble was brewing.
“If you are in Kandahar and face north, you will see a mountain range,” he says. “You climb over that and you are then in the Arghandab Valley.”
He describes a picturesque valley with farming communities so isolated they are unaware of the existence of other villages in the region.
“Kandahar is full of cars, but once you go over the mountains, when the sun goes down, the lights go out,” he says. “It’s beautiful. If you didn’t know terrorists were there, you’d want to build a summer home in that valley.”
The area is chock full of orchards, fields and walls with dirt roads forming a loose spiderweb, he says.
“We ‘assaulted’ into the valley — put way too much crap on our backs and walked in during the middle of the night,” he says.
They built an FOB — forward operating base — on a radish field, and started endless patrols. They began finding bombs and ordnance throughout the valley, apparently intended as IEDs for the Stryker Battalion from Fort Lewis, Wash., that his unit had replaced.
“We didn’t see much gunfire, but in the first three months we blew up between 140 and 180 pieces of ordnance,” he says.
He was about 300 meters from one 350-pound ordnance when it was detonated. The blast hurled a piece of explosive that landed about three meters from Edinger, where it blew up like a grenade.
“The terrorists didn’t like the fact we came in,” he says. “They’d place the bombs at night, making them smaller and better hidden. They were trying to adapt to us, countering what we were doing.”
He hit the sack fairly early on the night of March 29, intent on getting a good night’s sleep.
But his platoon commander awoke the soldiers at 4 a.m. It was time to move out.
“He told us another platoon had a guy step on a mine about four kilometers from where we were,” he says. “We got up and headed out.”
To avoid frequent routes where bombs may be planted, the unit invariably took the most difficult route, he says.
“We figure the terrorists won’t expect it and won’t put bombs along that route,” he explains. “We went through soggy fields and over walls. Four kilometers of that. Everybody was fried by the time we got there at about sunrise.”
They immediately set up security around the bomb site, an area where a wall meets a canal at what is known as a “choke point.”
Fortunately, the mine had been buried too deep, allowing the soil to absorb much of the explosive force. The soldier had suffered only broken bones in one foot, Edinger reports.
Moreover, a 30-pound bomb attached to that IED did not explode.
“If it had, we would have been picking up pieces of him,” Edinger says, noting his team blew up the rest of the bomb.
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Shortly afterward they heard another bomb go off just south of their position. When Sgt. Jim Lee of Connecticut attempted to jump across a canal, he landed on an IED, shattering his heel.
“We ran back down to provide security,” Edinger says. “They got Sgt. Lee out of there, then we heard another boom.”
Staff Sgt. Scott W. Brunkhorst, 25, of Fayetteville, N.C., who had a wife and young children, had found an IED. While he was uncovering it, the terrorists detonated it, using a radio-controlled device, killing the soldier instantly.
“We got called to respond to that so I grabbed the gun and headed through the choke point for the fifth time that day,” Edinger remembers. “I hit the mine running just below the choke point.”
It was 12:34 p.m. March 30, Afghan time.
“One second I was running, the next second I was sitting on my ass without a foot,” he says. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh s—-, I’m hurt.’ “
He would later conclude that the mine’s detonator was weight sensitive. A strong fellow whose hobbies include competitive weight lifting, Edinger was carrying a .30 caliber machine gun, 100 rounds of ammunition and other gear, meaning he was carrying about 140 pounds of equipment on top of his 205-pound body weight.
The additional gear he was carrying was supposed to be dispersed in a three-man team. However, the gunner for the team had a back injury and the unit was already understaffed, he says.
Immediately after the explosion, he sat there, enveloped by a brown cloud of dirt and dust. He couldn’t hear.
There was no pain, not at first.
“I was disoriented,” he continues. “I was wondering what the hell had happened. I unflung the gun and unclipped my backpack. I started to fall backwards. That’s when I noticed there was no flesh on my ankle, that I didn’t have a foot.”
And the pain hit him like a sledge hammer smashing his ankle.
“My hearing came back,” he says. “I heard someone yell, ‘Who’s hit?’
” ‘Edinger!’ someone yelled.
“I yelled, ‘My f——ing foot is gone.’ “
However, largely because of his military training and experience at RVMC, he didn’t panic. He grabbed a field aid kit, pulled out the tourniquet and twisted it around his leg as hard as he could. A bandage was applied to a 6-inch gash on his right leg.
A medic gave him antibiotics and mild painkillers, albeit the latter did little to lessen the agony. But within six minutes, a medivac helicopter carrying an elite Air Force parajumpers unit landed nearby. The pain was dulled by morphine before the aircraft landed at the military hospital at Kandahar a short time later.
His lower leg was surgically amputated halfway between his knee and ankle. He was quickly transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, then moved to Walter Reed early in April.
“From the health care aspect, the quality of care here is not paralleled by any hospital I’ve ever seen,” he says. “They know their stuff. That’s indicative of how many wounded they are seeing. In order to get so good at what they are doing they have had a lot of practice. But these people care a lot about what they do.”
Meanwhile, Edinger, whose wife has joined him in D.C. while he recuperates, isn’t sitting around.
Last week, he completed a 100-plus-mile bike ride as part of a Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit group working to help wounded soldiers get back on their feet.
Known as the “Soldier Ride,” it included a send-off attended by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., whose district office is in Medford.
“I met the first lady — she’s really cool, and a very beautiful woman,” he says, adding that he also appreciated the Bidens’ and Walden’s presence.
During the four-day ride, the wounded soldiers like Edinger who couldn’t use their feet employed hand gears to propel themselves.
Edinger, who expects a medical discharge from the Army, plans to go to college to become a nurse or a nurse practitioner. He may later rejoin the Army to help others who are wounded.
“There are some guys who let their injuries get to their heads,” he says. “But as far as I’m concerned, if you can’t change it, you roll with it and see what you can do with your life.”
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.