Purple Heart foundation got to sit down with Nicholas Romer. He was born in Gantt, Alabama. He decided to join the United States Marines Corps. He is still an active military service member and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also served in Japan and Kuwait. His ranks during that time were Captain and Ground Supply Officer. After he was wounded he became a Sergeant and Platoon Sergeant. We like to hear about heroes talk about their life in their own words.
“I have moments where I am unable to perform to the best of my ability and I feel a lot of guilt because of that. There is also a lot I cannot do with my kids because of my injury and it hurts me to my core.”
Where were you living at the time before joining?
Gantt, Alabama. I am the oldest brother of four kids. My brother joined the military a year before I did.
Why did you join?
I Grew up in a small Alabama town called Gantt and I didn’t see myself living there forever. My younger brother and sister were involved in drugs and gangs and I didn’t want to be around that. I needed to leave but I didn’t have the grades to get into college. My best friend growing up joined the Marine Corps and I attended the functions with him and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a Marine and make something of myself. Me and my best friend would do everything together, from hanging out, going to school, and even worked at the same spots
Why did you pick the Marine Corp?
It was The hardest and I wanted to take on the challenge of the toughest thing because he was motivated and ready to take on the challenge of bootcamp
Do you recall your first days?
Boot camp was very hard but was the easiest part of the entire military process. The physical and mental aspects of it were both hard.
How did you stay in touch with your family?
Cell phones had just started being a thing. I got my first cell phone and we had to pay for minutes. I Would pay for the minutes and call my family on the weekends mostly
Did you feel pressure or stress?
Yes it was a constant thing of feeling pressure and stress.
Was there something special you did for “good luck”?
During my time as a Sergeant in Iraq I was regularly in charge of thirteen marines and four vehicles. There was this Beanie baby that rode in the front of the vehicles and acted as our good luck charm, where the team went, the beanie baby would ride with us anywhere we would go.
Where did you travel while in the service?
Japan was an eleven month deployment from 2002-2003 Okinawa, Japan, an expedition unit.
“My injuries are nothing compared to those that paid the ultimate sacrifice. I wear it as a reminder that I am not invincible and that I was given a second chance.”
What event(s) led to you receiving the purple heart?
In November of 2004 I was assigned as the Platoon Sergeant for First platoon Battery G 2d Battalion 11th Marines and the squad leader for 1st squad. We closed in on the end of our seven month deployment and we were given orders to push from our area of operations South West of Baghdad to Camp Ramadi to meet up with the rest of 2nd Battalion 11th Marines in preparation for Operation Al-Fajr, also known as Operation PHANTOM FURY. On November 8th I was responsible for establishing a blocking position on main supply route mobile with my platoon in vicinity of the notorious cloverleaf traffic circle to screen the movement of the Regimental Combat Team on an auxiliary road behind our position It was very late when we occupied MSR mobile, exposing ourselves to enemy observation from the many abandoned buildings on the outskirts of the city. We began to take fire from those buildings to our 12 o’clock and we engaged them with crew serve weapons. I was moving from vehicle to vehicle identifying enemy positions for my Marines to engage. ( I had to run because we had minimal communications equipment). As I was running back to my vehicle we began to take rockets and mortars. I was exposed to the blast of one that had exploded near my position and was knocked unconscious. I was given immediate care by our motor transportation chief who was attached to my vehicle that night. I told him I was fine and denied further medical attention as we were still taking fire from the buildings in front of our position. I grabbed (5) anti tank rockets (AT4) that I had stored in my vehicle and engaged the enemy with (4) of the (5) rockets successfully neutralizing the enemy position. A C130 specter gunship was on station and also engaged the position as well as the vehicle mounted mortars with 105mm artillery.
What feelings or emotions did you deal with the most during or after your experience?
They call it fog of war, just going towards the unknown, you don’t know what is gonna happen. Hypervigilance. Taking care of the people you are in charge of. And I was 21 years old. At that age your mind is racing. They changed the mission right before we got there. There are so many things happening and so many things changing during the moment.
How did you survive your ordeal?
In Iraq there are stop and search, traffic control, rotation base security, man posts, patrolling functions, maintenance and rest, so many things done to protect soldiers. I survived because I wasn’t exposed to the full effects of the mortars/rockets and because of my Marines. I was dragged to the back of my gun truck which protected me from the follow on volleys. There was too much radio traffic to call for a casualty evacuation anyway and it would have been selfish to waste a very important asse
How did this event change your life?
I’ve had to seek mental health counseling for PTSD and traumatic brain injury that was undiagnosed for years. I have moments where I am unable to perform to the best of my ability and I feel a lot of guilt because of that. There is also a lot I cannot do with my kids because of my injury and it hurts me to my core.
What does it mean to you, to have received the Purple Heart Medal?
Never really thought about it. Enemy marksmanship. It’s difficult knowing that it’s the one medal that is given due to becoming hit by the enemy. I am proud to wear it for those that wear it now and I am proud to wear it for those who never came home to their families. My injuries are nothing compared to those that paid the ultimate sacrifice. I wear it as a reminder that I am not invincible and that I was given a second chance.
“I just wanted to add that my best friend Ssgt Vincent Bell was a Purple Heart recipient and his family lives with his sacrifice daily. I wear my Purple Heart in honor of him. I wear it everyday even if I’m not in uniform.”
Based on your experience, what do you want civilians to know?
It is not a positive outlook. That there are many service members that struggle with their mental health and never seek help. We lose them every day. If they are looking for a way to help then give to veteran organizations that help our veterans.
What did you go on to do as a career after the war?
I work as supply chain management, ordering or receiving military inventory. I am still an active service member. I am going to school studying for contract management and acquisition for the DOD
Do you attend reunions?
Haven’t had one yet. Everyone is scattered in different parts of the country now. But i still stay in touch with them when I can once in a while
Why is it important that people donate to programs that support our veterans?
Our service members sacrifice their minds and their bodies by serving. It doesn’t matter how long they serve, 4 years or 20. Their service takes a toll on them and they need to be able to find suitable programs that support their needs after they have hung their uniform up for the last time. Mental health resources, for example, need to be available to all veterans in a timely manner. They are currently waiting months for appointments and that is unacceptable.
As a veteran, how important is it to support our veterans when they return home and why?
They will need help with the transition out of the military. They need the backing of family and community. A lot of talented people that have a calling. Many people are talented and have many talents, some just need the help to find them or guide them to what jobs they can excel at.
As a veteran, are there things that still affect you to this day that occured during your time on active duty?
I think about everything that happened during my time in Iraq. Yes. I have been told several times that I need to be medically separated but I have refused to be put on a medical board. I struggle with my mental health and my physical health. It has put a lot of stress on my family. I have to be very careful which is one reason I became a Supply Chain Management Officer so I could continue to serve.
What struggles do you believe your family faced as a military family? How has it affected them?
Moving all the time has affected my kids, but it builds resilience. They are great kids, they’re into sports, multiple instruments. We have moved around to about 6 or 7 different schools. My children are straight A students and I am very proud of them.
What advice do you have for families that have active duty military members?
Life is tough, hours are long, be considerate to one another. Surround yourself with good people and make the best of every experience. Don’t lock yourself away from others.
What is something you think the average American needs to know about veterans?
We are humans just like regular people. There are many service members that struggle with their mental health and never seek help. We lose them every day. If they are looking for a way to help then give to veteran organizations that help our veterans.
What message, if any, would you like to impart for veterans currently suffering from PTSD, TBI, and other combat wounds?
It is not weak to get help, it is the exact opposite. They should be looking at them in every program. Mental health is important and overall health is important. I want them to know that there is help out there, both physical and mental. An injury doesn’t have to be the end of the line and you can continue to serve. Never be too proud to ask for help or seek treatment
Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
I just wanted to add that my best friend Ssgt Vincent Bell was a Purple Heart recipient and his family lives with his sacrifice daily. I wear my Purple Heart in honor of him. I wear it everyday even if I’m not in uniform.
We appreciate you Nick for sharing such an honest and revealing story, from your younger days to your time now as an active service member. Thank you so much for your service and for your participation in sharing a lot of things that you hold dear to your life.