This post was written by Nick Colgin, a Paradox Sports participant and leader, outdoor adventurer, and veteran.
I served in Afghanistan as a combat medic with the 82d Airborne in an area called Tagab Valley. Pretty much everyone, including major news outlets, had described Tagab as hell on earth. I just called it home. It was the place my battle buddies and I went to work at during the day, and the place we laid or head down at night. It wasn’t until November 10, 2007, I truly realized what they meant, and I truly realized what hell was.
It was the first day of a multiple day mission. My crew of paratroopers were in a joint operation with multiple teams of specials forces, members of the French Foreign Legion, and the Afghan National Army. Together, our mission was to grab as many high value targets off of a list over the next few days. Basically, just go get all the bad guys that had been shooting at us and blowing us up. By early afternoon, we had nabbed most of our targets on the list. Things were rolling along smoothly. That is, until that evening as the sun was setting.
We were calling it a day, but we wanted to recon a route before we needed to use it the next day to continue our mission. We had planned to simply roll through the route recon and get back to our firebase in time to smoke a few, read some Maxim, and play some cards before passing out. Unfortunately, the Taliban had other plans.
As soon as we entered the dry riverbed we wanted to recon, we began to take fire from both sides. This lasted for about 5 minutes, until we suppressed their fire with our larger weapons and began to push forward. We got about 15 feet further, and began to take fire again. For those that don’t understand what I mean by taking fire, I don’t mean flames or literally fire, I mean terrorist were trying to kill us by shooting at us with everything that had, ranging from machine guns to rockets, and they weren’t giving up. Every time we would suppress their fire to move forward, they would hit us again, again, and again.
That’s when I heard the one thing no one wants to hear, the cry for medic on the battlefield. I dropped what I was doing, jumped out of the safety of my Humvee, ran across that dry river bed, in the open, while we were getting shot at, risking my life to save the life of someone I didn’t know, a French soldier that had been shot in the head.
I secured him, and immediately began treating his unresponsive body. It was at this point, I realized the first of two grave mistakes we would make that evening. The French crew on this mission did not have the ability to communicate with the US forces for some reason. Because of this, I would have to run back across the open river bed, smoke pouring in, bullets whizzing by, to communicate his injuries to hopefully get him help. Unfortunately, despite my efforts and risk, help never came. I guess they don’t send medevac helicopters into active firefights. It was up to me.
At the same time as I was treating this French Soldier, I realized the second of the two grave errors we made that night, November 10, 2007. As I was returning fire, in between treating my patient, I noticed chaos in the distance. Not thinking ahead, someone had put the Afghan National Army vehicles behind our vehicles. Normally, no big deal. Unfortunately, as it became night it became a big deal. Coalition forces excel at fighting at night because of night vision goggles. Unfortunately, not all of the Afghan National Army has the same luxury. So while we had our headlights off to fight in pure darkness, some of the Afghan trucks had to leave their headlights on to see, spotlighting all of us. Because of this, a rocket hit a Humvee carrying one of the Special Forces teams, killing one, and injuring the rest. This night had turned into hell on earth.
Hours later and after much more carnage, we finally made it back to our firebase. We were home. The injured, including the French Soldier, made it onto medevac helicopters. We smoked a few, and I laid down on the ground next to my battle buddies to sleep. I was 22, covered in the blood of people I would never know, trying to fall asleep in this sand we called moon dust because of its powder like consistency. I rolled over in this moon dust, took my top off to use as a pillow as I fell asleep watching the stars, shooting around just like the rounds had shot around that riverbed earlier that night. I dozed off for 30 minutes or so, woke up and went back into that riverbed with even more troops, because loss and adversity doesn’t mean the mission ends. It may have been Veterans Day by the time we headed back out, maybe not, who knows or who cares. November 10, 2007 would become my Groundhogs Day. I never thought Veterans Day would come because I didn’t think I could make it past that night, November 10th.
While I had a hard time making it past that night, I made it home from war, barely. I came home in 2008 after 15 months in Tagab Valley, unable to spell my own name, walk without a cane, and barely able to speak because of a traumatic brain injury from the blast of a rocket propelled grenade. Over the years, I have had numerous surgeries to be “normal” again. What the hell is normal anyway? I earned a Bronze Star for saving the life of that French soldier that one night in Afghanistan, but I also earned an unemployment check when I came home because turns out, it’s not so cut and dry getting a job as an Afghanistan veteran I guess. It seems like I have been through every bit of adversity a paratrooper transitioning from war could go through, but I have never quit, I have never accepted defeat, two of the many values I picked up in the military. But I could not have transitioned with these values alone.
Things didn’t really start looking up for me until I began to climb in life, metaphorically and literally. One of the major catalysts for this change was Timmy O’Neil from Paradox Sports. After meeting Timmy and getting to know Paradox Sports, I went from being unemployed to addressing the President using my story to pass the VOW Act so veterans like myself were less likely to be unemployed coming home from war. I then went on to start my own company, my first hire being a veteran. While I couldn’t walk without a cane when I came home, I then began climbing mountains. Real mountains, such as Rainier and the Grand Teton with Paradox Sports. They really helped me realize that there’s more out there. I only thought I had a community of veterans to rely on and felt isolated, but they taught me that there is a whole community out there of people that may not have served, but understand adversity. They taught me to stop looking for reasons I couldn’t do things, but reasons why I could or should. Most importantly though, they gave me the opportunity to serve again. I was a helper when I was in Afghanistan as a medic, but I needed help when I came home. Now I am able to help again by taking veterans and civilians through the journey Paradox took me through.
As I finish writing this, it’s November 10, 2014. I have wrapped up a day of climbing in Texas. I am exhausted, but I am not covered in blood. I will not be falling asleep next to a battle buddy, but instead my best friend, Dixie, my dog. I will not be falling asleep on the ground, but on a bed in my camper van I am driving across the US. I will not be waking up in 30 minutes, hell, I probably won’t be up before 10am. So while a lot has changed since this night 7 years ago in 2007, one thing hasn’t. Just like the mission didn’t end that night in Afghanistan after so much adversity and loss, the mission won’t end to help my community of veterans. Suicide, homelessness, and unemployment are still major issues. But through organizations such as Paradox Sports, which recognizes we aren’t victims, but veterans, veterans like myself can go on to become the next greatest generation.
To see more about Nick’s Story, you can watch this video on the difficulties he faced returning home: http://on.aol.com/video/s1-e5—nick-colgin-survived–hell-on-earth–517431067