“I still don’t feel like I did that much,” Nathan told the Midtown Raleigh News in 2013, “but everyone keeps saying that I did. So, I’m starting to believe them, I guess.”
What Nathan did, of course, was what thousands of service members in all branches of the military do each and every year for all Americans: He placed his life on the line and made a personal and physical sacrifice the depths of which most of us can scarcely imagine.
A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Nathan graduated magna cum laude from East Carolina University in 2010 through the ROTC program. On the way to earning his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology (the scientific study of human movement) and exercise science, Nathan was active in school government and a wide range of organizations, including serving as Cadet Battalion Commander, Ranger Challenge Team Captain and President of the Army Cadet Association.
He began his formal Army training in March 2011 at Fort Benning outside Columbus, Georgia, and in May 2012 deployed to Ghanzi Province in Afghanistan as a heavy weapons infantry platoon leader. His responsibilities included protecting the local Afghan population from insurgents across an area of 20 square kilometers, planning and executing infantry combat operations and training an American specialty platoon.
About two months into his deployment, on July 8, Nathan’s life changed forever.
“We had a combat patrol and we went out for about four hours on foot and we were walking around,” Nathan told WNCN news. “We were almost to our objective and I stopped to get radio communication with our headquarters.”
That’s when he stepped on the IED (improvised explosive device) that claimed both his legs.
Less than a week later, on July 13, Nathan arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to begin his recovery. He was immediately surrounded by his loving family, who had dropped everything to welcome their hero home.
For the next several months, as Nathan learned to walk again, his mother Cindy remained by his side serving as his caregiver. During the initial months of his recovery, Nathan’s father also remained bedside, taking months of unpaid time off from work.
Learning to walk on prosthetic legs and adjusting to post-injury life brought new challenges to Nathan and his family. It was crucial to his parents that Nathan be able to visit and spend time in their home, but renovations can be very expensive, especially after months of being away from work caring for a family member.
With the help of the Home Depot Foundation, America’s Fund was able to provide a grant for Nathan’s parents to purchase the materials needed to build a full ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant bathroom with a new sink and shower—and enough space to be able to navigate the room using his wheelchair.
“Nathan has truly made an inspirational recovery, and I’m so thankful that our partnership with the Home Depot Foundation enabled us to help make the needed modifications to his parents’ home a reality,” said America’s Fund Case Manager Stephanie Ferguson. “Sometimes it’s the little things, like easily accessing the shower, which we take for granted. To help Nathan regain some independence in his family’s home is an absolute privilege and honor.”
“Thanks to Home Depot and America’s Fund, I can go home to the house I grew up in and not be stressed about how to shower or get my wheelchair through the doors,” Nathan said. “The ability to navigate around in my wheelchair and not have to struggle to do everyday things is a huge relief and allows me to focus on spending quality time with my family that means so much to me.”
“It hit me pretty early on that it’s not the metal and plastic that holds me up when I walk around,” Nathan told WNCN news, “it’s the support of all these people.
Since receiving his prosthetic legs, Nathan has been extremely active—and in October 2013, he completed the Army Ten Miler. Four months later, on February 20, 2014, he left Walter Reed after 587 days of recovery. About five weeks later, on March 27, he retired from the Army.
These days, Nathan is back in school, working on his MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. He hopes to work in the health care sector, and is expected to receive his Master’s in 2016.