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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications, Published December 21 2012

North Dakota native recovering from Afghanistan attack

GRAND FORKS – 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 6 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.

Recruited by several Division I schools, as well as UND 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.

Rehabilitation

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.

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.


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Kevin Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald