Christmas at Walter Reed: N.D. native recovers from wounds and partial loss of legArmy Capt. Seth Nieman, a Calvin, N.D., native, is spending Christmas at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. But he’d rather be back in Afghanistan with the Special Forces “A-Team” that he leads.
By: By Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
Army Capt. Seth Nieman, a Calvin, N.D., native, is spending Christmas at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
But he’d rather be back in Afghanistan with the Special Forces “A-Team” that he leads.
Nieman is recuperating from wounds, including the loss of part of his right leg, suffered Nov. 27 when a roadside bomb exploded while he and five fellow soldiers were on mounted patrol in Wardak province near Kabul.
He has had eight separate surgeries.
“I’m having a pretty good day,” Nieman said in a telephone interview this week. “At Walter Reed, they don’t really give you a schedule, but I think I’m way ahead of schedule. They’re talking about moving me to outpatient care within a couple of weeks.”
His right leg was amputated six inches below the knee.
His left leg was broken, “in uncountable places,” he said. “There’s a Lowe’s hardware store inside my leg now.”
He broke his L2 vertebrae, one of five in the lower back.
He ruptured his left eardrum and chipped several teeth.
He also has more than 30 stitches in his right forearm after surgery to remove shrapnel.
Nieman is with the Third Special Forces Group (Airborne), based at Fort Bragg, N.C. A Green Beret and detachment commander, he leads a team of a dozen soldiers.
Living the dream
Nieman was just 7 or 8, watching an Army-Navy football game on television with his dad, Tony, when he announced that he wanted to play football for Army, according to his mother, Jayne.
He played most sports for Border Central, Towner-Cavalier County and Langdon (N.D.) High School. He was an all-state athlete in track and field, an all-district basketball player and an all-state football player as an offensive lineman for Langdon.
The 2001 Border Central graduate also played tuba in the school band.
Recruited by several Division I schools, as well as the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, he was nominated to West Point, where he played for four years, starting on the offensive line his junior and senior years.
He graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science.
Initially stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., as a member of the 887th Engineer Company, Nieman was deployed to Baghdad during the surge into Iraq in fall 2006. He spent 24 months there as a platoon leader.
His mother said he flew home at one point to donate bone marrow to his sister, Savanna, but was not a match. Savanna, who was 15 months younger than him, died of leukemia in 2007 while he was still in Iraq.
Nieman later earned his Ranger, Sapper and Special Forces tabs.
Tony and Jayne Nieman have been in Bethesda since the end of November.
Capt. Nieman approaches his rehabilitation the way he attacks all challenges, his mother said.
“It was a shock to see him,” she said, “but he’s doing really well. He’s got this attitude about him.”
These days, Capt. Nieman has daily physical and occupational therapy. Even with an arm full of stitches, he pushes himself for three-hour wheelchair tours around the facility.
He said he expects to be fitted for a prosthetic leg soon, so he can start walking.
Although six soldiers were injured that day on Nov. 27, Nieman is the only one who still is a patient at Walter Reed.
One soldier, who fractured his eye socket in the blast, is an outpatient at the facility. Another is being treated for injuries at Fort Bragg. Yet another, who suffered a broken leg, is at Fort Stewart, Ga.
A soldier who was blown out of the truck refused to leave his post and remains on duty with the team, Nieman said.
Rejoining the team
“We’ve got nine Purple Hearts on my team, and we’re still doing operations,” Nieman said. “They’re awesome.”
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., visited the Niemans at Walter Reed earlier this month.
“Capt. Seth Nieman is an American hero and a true inspiration,” the senator said. “He has dedicated much of his young life to serving our nation both at home and abroad.
“As we visited together along with his parents, Tony and Jayne, it became clear that this North Dakota family embodies the best that our nation has to offer. Seth’s courage and optimism are his defining characteristics and I know these traits will help him as he recovers. We wish Seth and his family all the best.”
Nieman wants to return home this summer for the wedding of Aaron Restad, one of his best friends while growing up.
But he has more immediate goals.
He expects to be able to travel by March or April, and head back to Fort Bragg. His plan is to rejoin his team in Afghanistan, too, but he admits it may be May or June before he’s ready. And the team may be back at Fort Bragg by then.
“I was in the most isolated, most secluded outpost in Afghanistan of any U.S. force,” Nieman said. “It makes me super proud of my team. My team sergeant was shot in the abdomen in October. Now, he’s back with the team, in Afghanistan. My team humbles me more than anything. The worst part is being here and not being with my team.”