Retired U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Nick Kimmel saunters across the office with his host Jesse Mudd of Beloit. Kimmel throws his weight back and forth at the hips and shoulders to propel himself along on the carbon fiber, titanium and aluminum prosthetic legs he wears to stay upright and mobile. The rechargeable, waterproof prosthetics contain a computerized hydraulic piston, in what serves as the knee joint, to help give the wearer a more natural gait. Kimmel’s gait is anything but natural as he heads toward the back of the room.
His pace quickens as he moves forward. The shifting of his weight builds momentum with each step. You can see this is a skill he has mastered and that this mastery could not have happened overnight. He does not wear a prosthetic on what remains of his left arm, which has been removed just a few short inches below the shoulder. Kimmel pivots on his legs in order to turn and sit. Maintaining his balance with his hand now holding the chair arm. Then, in a single, sweeping motion that can only be described as a controlled fall, he drops into the chair with a thud before adjusting his position and sitting up straight.
This all takes place over the course of about a minute, but it is the first of many moments to come over the next hour or so that serve as examples of things most of us take for granted. Not just things and activities we take for granted but also people, like Sgt. Kimmel, who we tend to take for granted until faced with the reality of their situation, service and sacrifice. Watching Kimmel as he moves and seats himself would invoke many to feel a type of sadness or even pity. Sadness and pity, however, are not a part of Kimmel’s mindset nor his vocabulary.
Kimmel originally hails from Moses Lake, Washington, about 100 miles southwest of Spokane along I-90. He grew up as an avid duck hunter, an intelligent student and a good athlete. Coming out of high school he was offered a baseball scholarship to Arizona State University. An offer he declined in favor of enlisting in the Marine Corps.
Mudd is the founder of Vets 4 Vets, a local non-profit organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled military servicemen and women through hunting, fishing and outdoor adventures. Kimmel was the original inspiration for Mudd to start the organization and is the first disabled Veteran who will partake in the program. Over the next two weeks, they will hunt coon, water fowl, prairie dogs and deer in the Beloit area before they head for Texas to take part in an exotic game hunt.
Following boot camp at Camp Pendleton, CA, and Combat Engineer school at Camp Lejune, NC, Kimmel served on assignments in Okinawa, Korea, Indonesia and Hawaii. Leading up to what would be a seven month deployment to Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion 1st Marines for road improvement and improvised explosive device (IED) detection in 2010. From there, Kimmel returned to Okinawa before volunteering to go back to Afghanistan with the 9th Engineer Support Battalion in 2011.
“We got there on November 10th, which is the Marine Corps’ birthday” says Kimmel who was a Corporal at the time. Less than a month later on December 1st, 2011, he was working with his unit building a patrol base in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. It was a day that would change his life, and his body, forever.
“I stepped on a 40 pound IED, but only 13 pounds exploded,” Kimmel says. The explosion resulted in Kimmel becoming a triple amputee. Losing both legs above the knee as well as his left arm. To his knowledge, he is the just the 36th Veteran in the history of the United State Military to survive as a triple amputee. The first known being from the Vietnam War era.
When asked about other complications or injuries he suffered in or as a result of the explosion, Kimmel said, “I had three pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs) and my heart stopped twice.”
As if all of that were not enough to endure, Kimmel also acquired a rare bacterial infection from the Afghan dirt which he believes transpired in the process of being dragged across the ground with open wounds to a helicopter for evacuation. All of this on the day referred to as his “Alive Day.” He still carries shrapnel from the explosion in his body.
After being stabilized and waiting out a 10 day quarantine due to the bacterial infection he contracted that affects only 1 in 10,000, he was moved to Camp Leatherneck in the Afghan capitol of Kabul. From there he was transferred to Bethesda, MD via Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Kimmel says, “They pretty much just get you stabilized enough to travel and then send you home.”
Upon his return stateside on December 4th of 2011, Kimmel endured over 50 surgeries. He remembers, “I had surgery every Monday, Wednesday and Friday… recovery took about two years.” This included physical therapy and learning to use his prosthetics.
“I started with a jointless stick prosthetic for 3 to 4 months and then with knees after that. The physical part was the most challenging, Psychologically it is what it is and I wouldn’t change anything. If I could go back to when I enlisted and they told me that you’re going to lose both legs and an arm I still would have signed up.”
“In the recovery process I tried to encourage and help others where I had the actual experience. The (medical staff) were trained to treat and help us but they had never had the actual experience,” Kimmel added.
Upon his release from Bethesda he returned to San Diego where his father came to live with him for a year to help him reacclimate to daily life. Kimmel says, “It used to take 30 to 40 minutes to put on my legs, now it’s 5 to 10 at the most.”
Kimmel currently resides in San Diego and is taking classes at the Vincennes School on Camp Pendleton and plans to transfer to San Diego State University majoring in mechanical engineering. His post study plans are to work in product design for a prosthetics company.
He has also served as an intern for the San Diego Padres baseball club in their operations department. Kimmel has built relationships with Padres players as well as San Francisco Giants players such as Jake Peavy who he is planning a hog hunt with on Peavy’s ranch in Mississippi.
He is an avid off-road racer and is planning to be the first amputee to compete next year in the Baja 1,000 driving an overhauled Toyota Tacoma truck he drove in high school. “Baja is the Super Bowl of off-road racing,” Kimmel injects. In the mean time he drives a Jeep Wrangler in desert races east of San Diego.
When asked how people respond to him Kimmel says, “I get a lot of double takes and it doesn’t bother me and kids are curious about it. Sometimes when people just come up and just start asking me questions I’m like, “Hey, I’m Nick (etc.) and that’s kind of frustrating.”
Vets 4 Vets provides for all of Kimmel’s expenses on this trip he has embarked on. In regard to his organization, Mudd says, “It’s great for guys to come here to hunt and get a Kansas white tail. There are a number of organizations that do this kind of thing but there cannot be enough. I want to thank every who makes this possible. The VFW, Carrico’s, CPS, Yeti who gave us a cooler to raffle and the community at large for all their support and help.
Aside from Vets 4 Vets, Kimmel will receive assistance in the form of a new home being funded by the R.I.S.E. Program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) which is a part of the Gary Sinise Foundation. Sinise is well known for playing amputee Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump and has long been dedicated to Veteran’s causes.
For more information about Vets 4 Vets you may contact Jesse Mudd at (785)282-4793 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find Vets 4 Vets on Facebook.
Sgt. Kimmel will turn 25 this Thanksgiving Day and will celebrate his Alive Day on December 1st. He is thankful for, “Foundations that help vets and their families and I am thankful to be alive and want to live 10 lifetimes for those who can’t… to celebrate the lives of those who were lost in the sands of Afghanistan.”