A soldiers tale

By Observer Upload March 18, 2013 12:14 pm

U.S. Marine James Nash, a Wallowa County native, earns two Purple Hearts 

 by Katy Nesbitt/The Observer

For the past 12 years, American troops have been deployed to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, while most of us go about our day-to-day lives untouched by the perils of war. 

That is until one day a family gets a call that their son or daughter was injured in an attack.

The reality of war came crashing in for James Nash’s family last summer when he called to say he was recovering from a concussion at Camp Leatherneck, a 1,600-acre U.S. Marine Corps base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

“On Aug. 6, during Operation Lion Den IV, my platoon was doing some clearing operations in Now Zad,” said Nash, a first lieutenant and tank commander. “We were surrounded and attacked by a large element of Taliban — the opening of that attack was an 82 millimeter mortar.” 

The platoon had stopped to take a break at an Afghani compound and was waiting waiting for fuel.

“Afghans live in compounds made out of mud for the exterior walls,” Nash said. “They might be 100-by-100 yards with row crops, animals and people all living in there. We had occupied one of the Afghan compounds and were planning on ‘going firm’ meaning stay there for the night and continue operations the next day.”

Nash said the temperatures reached 130 degrees and was more than 150 degrees inside the tanks. 

“A couple Marines were having issues with the heat — looked like they could become cases of heat exhaustion,” Nash said. “We had to get out of the tanks to cool off and get some water. We’d been going for 10 hours straight in those temperatures.”

When the platoon was hit by the mortar, Nash’s gunner was killed. Three other Marines were injured, but are all in recovery.

“I was going back and forth between the radio to request a medevac helicopter to provide medical aid and applying tourniquets. We had a Navy corpsman attached to the unit. He did a lot to save those three Marines who survived,” Nash said. 

Nash was flown to Camp Leatherneck where he convalesced in the concussion treatment center for a couple weeks before he was able to go back to work.

The mortar attack earned Nash his first purple heart. A little more than two months later, he earned his second.

On Oct. 25, Nash said his platoon had conducted five days of clearing operations — systematically going through an area with specific goals in mind — taking weapons and destroying metric tons of heroin and opium.

“We had been operating 80 kilometers into enemy territory and had to make it back,” Nash said. “During that withdrawal, we ran through an area that the enemy had seeded with improvised explosive devices. Two tanks were struck right next to each other. As I was passing through, another tank hit an IED and that blast probably caused my second concussion. A couple hours later I got hit by a recoilless rifle.”

Nash said he wasn’t able to be medevaced immediately to deal with his injuries.

“They couldn’t have gotten my tank back because we were short on personnel,” he said. “We had a lot of other problems with the mission. We were hit by so many IEDs that the withdrawal took 60 hours.” 

This time, he said, he spent three weeks at Camp Leatherneck’s concussion center.

Recovered, he rejoined his platoon and continued combat operations until they were relieved by the next unit. He returned to the U.S. in January.

Nash took good advantage of his leave time, spending it with family and becoming engaged. 

Nash will spend the next year at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and is still a platoon commander for another couple weeks. Right now, he spends the majority of his days going to different medical appointments for a variety of injuries.

“The Marine Corps has been very accommodating,” Nash said.

In his spare time he fishes for shark in the Atlantic Ocean.

Nash was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal in late December for “heroic achievement while serving as platoon commander … in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.” The award stemmed from the October five-day clearing mission when his convoy was ambushed with improvised explosive devices, rockets and machine guns.

A fifth generation Wallowa County native, Nash studied literature and writing at the University of Montana Western in Dillon and was a wildland firefighter for five seasons. He graduated in 2009 and entered the Marines in January 2010.

He plans to attend graduate school at Montana State University and study history. His fiancé, Danielle Walker, will join him there to continue her studies in community health.

“No one’s shooting at me, that’s my favorite thing about being home — that and the food,” Nash said.