Michael J. Kerrigan

We continue Todd’s profile; first by learning his views on courage, next we can appreciate Todd’s views on combat, then we are in awe of Todd’s heroic gift of confidence for the future, especially, considering the devastating injury he has endured.

Corporal Todd Nicely does not think being in combat is a necessary requirement for a person to be heroic. In fact, he believes each day we are all given opportunities to do heroic deeds. For example, he explains that simply changing a person’s automobile tire on the side of the road in a tough neighborhood might not seem heroic, yet, Todd notes,  it may be exactly that from the perception of the person in need of help.


Todd’s attitude is that of a born leader, it just took Marine Corps training to bring it out. Todd thinks that there is the fine line between courage and stupidity in a combat situation. For Todd, having courage in combat is all about knowing when to run toward the bullets. It is quickly observing and orienting oneself in a dangerous situation and then acting. It takes a cool head to decide whether to charge the Taliban’s position directly or to avoid a direct assault, determine your enemy’s position precisely, and maneuver into a better position in order to entrap them. Courage, in this instance, is letting your training kick in, being willing to go toward the sound of the bullets, but doing so with all the facts and great patience. (I think the corporal presumed I understood that stupidity would be running toward the bullets without properly assessing the situation.)


Recalling an incident in high school when he had to stop a bully from picking on a smalle  kid Corporal Nicely declared that courage is endemic in both civilian and military life.  However, Todd believes that the specific training in the military “to help your buddies,” makes it more likely that someone with a military background will be willing to help a stranger in civilian life.


Todd told me “there is no time for fear in combat.” He explained to me that when leading his men he had to be the first one running to the fire of bullets in those situations when it is better to go to the enemy, rather than sit back and take overwhelming fire. He explained that his squad couldn’t get 600 meters outside of our base without getting fired upon.


Nicely’s first impulse is the welfare of his men.  He proudly stated that while all of his group were younger than he was, they lacked nothing in character.  All had the courage to run toward the bullets with him. He would try to pace the demands on his men, though.  One time after his men completed a patrol in a favorite Taliban stronghold, he waited until the next morning to tell them that they all would be returning to the same stronghold, during Taliban prime time no less.


Todd was injured on patrol in the Southern part of Afghanistan. On 26 March 2010 while taking the point on patrol crossing a bridge, Todd fatefully detonated forty pounds by stepping on a pressure plate of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The blast blew Todd well over the bridge down to the river below. Amazingly, Todd told me his first thought was not to scream for fear of “spooking his men.” Also, Todd stated if this was his last act, “he did not want his men to be negatively impacted by memories of Todd screaming.” Todd kept silent.  He figured “if he just kept breathing, he would eventually make it back to Crystal”, his wife waiting for him in the States. Nicely did not open his eyes again until days later, in front of family, at a military hospital in Germany. But the injuries were severe. Corporal Nicely not only lost his arms, but his legs too, becoming only the second American to survive this war after losing all four limbs.


Corporal Nicely has approached therapy with the same focus he showed on the battlefield.  Upon arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a home filled with heroes, Todd was told it would take at least one year of physical and occupational rehabilitation to master use of each prosthesis. Well 18 months after arriving, he will soon be released, having regained his driver’s license, experienced downhill skiing in Colorado, running five miles a day, and having just completed competing in a “hope and possibility” race in Central Park.


Imagine yourself in such a situation.  Would your first and second thoughts be thinking of our buddies?


While Todd’s response in battle was one of incredible courage, his continued courage in dealing with his injuries is beyond exceptional.  Amazingly, the result of the blast was for Todd to lose the use of his limbs, but not his spirit.


“I definitely look forward to the future and possibly to having children,” says Crystal. “Nothing has changed. He’s still my husband and I still want everything I wanted before.” 


“I do feel lucky,” says Nicely. “I could be one of the casualties, but instead, I’m going to be a normal functioning human here.”


Nicely maintains his positive outlook by attributing a lot of credit to his wife Crystal, and a little bit to not feeling sorry for himself. You’ve got to get up and do your day-to-day things. You can’t just lay around in a hospital bed, but that’s not much of a life. You’ve got to get up and take it on a day-by-day basis.


In his “spare time, ” Corporal Nicely visits the “new guys” in their beds at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He tells them that there is “hope beyond the bed” and that he is living proof. Todd sees these acts of kindness as his “responsibility to pay it forward.”


There is plenty of fight left in this Marine. The war may have cost him his limbs but not his heart. Nicely has the heart of a champion and once again assumes a leadership role with his buddies. 


There is much for civilians to emulate in the good character of Corporal Todd and Crystal Nicely, and there is also an opportunity to help this heroic Marine marriage.


To help Todd and Crystal, you can send donations to:


Todd A. Nicely Donations

6900 Georgia Ave, NW

Abrams Hall Box 4207

Washington, DC 20307

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