Unknown Soldiers: No Regrets

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nick Vogt holds up a shirt given to him by the Travis Manion Foundation on Oct. 12 at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The Army Ranger lost both his legs in Afghanistan on Nov. 12, 2011.

If you lost both your legs, would you be smiling less than a year later?

For me, the answer to that question is no. That’s why meeting a seriously wounded U.S. Army soldier named 1st Lt. Nick Vogt is an experience I will always cherish.

What struck me most during my Oct. 12 visit with the 24-year-old Afghanistan war veteran at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center wasn’t seeing a handsome young man with no legs. It was 1st Lt. Vogt’s bright, optimistic smile.

When the soldier’s mother, Sheila Vogt, introduced me to her son, Nick was lying on his couch beneath an American flag decoration and photos of his little niece and nephew. While a beautiful fall day shined outside his window, stark reminders of our military’s continuing sacrifices filled his apartment.

“Thank you for your service, Lieutenant,” I said while shaking Nick’s hand.

“No problem,” the wounded warrior replied with a warm grin.

While the Army Ranger’s mom and I sat comfortably, Nick spent most of the hour-long visit on his back. Even though it’s been eleven months since an enemy improvised explosive device took his legs, one stubbornly healing wound forces Nick to avoid the sitting position. The quicker the wound heals, the faster the Crestline, Ohio, soldier can finally be fitted with prosthetics.

Nick’s left hand is missing its pinky finger, and a large scar engulfs his arm. Both legs are missing entirely. The soldier has no memory of the Nov. 12, 2011, terrorist attack that nearly killed him, and said that in the weeks after the explosion, his mind underwent a full “reboot.”

Still, as his mom described before we went upstairs to see Nick, there is no bitterness inside her son’s heart. There is only the desire to live, heal and serve.

“I’m staying in,” Nick said about his military future. “And mom, someday, I’m going back.”

As Nick looked up at his mother, all she could do is smile back, look in my direction and crack a joke.

“Do you see what I have to deal with?” Sheila said with an affectionate smirk.

Before spending time with the Vogts, it was impossible to comprehend the sacrifices made by a wounded warrior’s loved ones.

In the eleven months since their son was wounded, Sheila said she and Nick’s father have been simultaneously inside in their Ohio home just three times. They alternate weeks at Walter Reed to help Nick, who nearly died in January after a crisis with his lung.

The morning after our visit, Sheila was scheduled to fly home and spend an evening with her husband, Steve. The couple was so excited that they both accidentally made reservations at the same restaurant. Still, before arranging the special trip, Nick’s mom and dad had to make sure their son was ready to be alone until Steve arrived in Bethesda, Md., the next day.

“Cleaning a wound is not easy, especially when you can’t see it,” Sheila said. “He had to prove to me that he could do it.”

Looking into Sheila’s eyes, I could see the same optimism her son projects. But I could also see exhaustion. Few parents could imagine what Sheila and Steve have endured, yet through faith and unconditional love, they are still smiling.

As we sat with Nick, I asked the wounded warrior what it meant to recently travel to Fort Wainwright to see his fellow soldiers return from Afghanistan.

“It meant everything,” he said.

Nick’s mom said it took a grueling 12-hour flight from the nation’s capital to Alaska in order for the platoon leader to see his fellow troops. He was in pain during the flight, and his parents worried one of his wounds would become infected. But nothing could stop Nick from greeting his brothers in arms.

First lieutenant Vogt is a young man with no regrets. He chose to attend West Point despite knowing he was joining the Army during a time of war. He was accepted to medical school upon graduation, yet chose to deploy to Afghanistan with an infantry platoon. Even though it cost him his legs, Nick would undoubtedly choose the same path all over again.

When I asked the wounded soldier how he was doing, he responded with his trademark smile.

“I’m doing great,” he said.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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