Editor's note: This article is the second in a three-part series detailing the enlistment, injury and rehabilitation of 1433rd Michigan Army National Guard Combat Engineer Specialist Steven Nelson of Calumet.
CALUMET - "I was having a really good day," Spc. Steven Nelson said of the day he was caught in the blast of an improvised explosive device, otherwise known as a roadside bomb.
Nelson and his fellow soldiers were pushing into a location about which Nelson is not cleared to speak.
Photo courtesy Steven Nelson
Steven Nelson, a Combat Engineer Specialist with the 1433rd Michigan Army National Guard, stands in a crater while on duty overseas. Nelson served once in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan. On his latter tour in Afghanistan in August of 2012, Nelson was severely injured.
"We actually got pretty close (to our target) those two days we were out there," Nelson said. "We were just blowing stuff up, trying to clear it out. Pushing into the area."
Nelson is a combat engineer - a heavy demolitions expert. But he doesn't work too often with demolitions. When he comes across one, another person is designated to ignite it.
In the mission Nelson was on, he was able to blow things up, which excited him.
His fellow soldier, Spc. Kyle McClain, was setting up an Antipersonnel Obstacle Breaching System, a rocket that shoots out a line charge of C4 and grenades and it blows up and detonates any IED that's under it. The APOB is contained in two backpacks.
McClain pushed down on the backpack and it set off an IED that the minehound - a sort of metal detector that also has ground-penetrating radar - and the dog team comprised of a military police officer and a bomb-sniffing canine, missed.
"That blew up the 20-pound IED which, (because of the APOB on top of it), became a 114-pound IED, which is very big," Nelson said. "Especially for not being in a truck."
McClain died almost instantly.
The blast knocked Nelson off his feet. As he landed, he hit his head on a rock.
"Everything slows down when you get blown up," Nelson said. "I saw the blast hit me and I felt the shock wave hit me. I felt it pick me off my feet. I felt the shrapnel hit my body. It was a lot of shrapnel. I felt myself land, but that didn't hurt. None of it hurt."
What did hurt Nelson, though, was the tourniquet applied by Specialist Jacob Lomoro. Lomoro got to Nelson first and not only helped him with his wounds but kept Nelson from going into shock.
"Shock is one of the leading causes of death overseas," Nelson said. "It's not the wound itself but going into shock from the wound."
Nelson has nominated Lomoro for the Bronze Star, awarded for acts of heroism.
Lomoro helped calm Nelson down and reassure him he would be OK. At the time of the blast, Nelson thought his face had been blown off. But despite it all, he wasn't afraid he was going to die.
Nelson was 6 feet away from McClain when the explosive went off.
"He asked me to come over and show him something," Nelson said. "I was on my way over there and that's when it went off."
Despite losing his friend and fellow soldier, Nelson insists he doesn't feel any survivor's guilt surrounding McClain's death.
"We're all grown men. We voluntarily enlisted. We volunteered to go on this deployment," Nelson said. "We knew the risks involved in doing that."
Nelson also said he'd rather it be himself who was injured than one of his younger soldiers. From speaking about it to his fellow soldiers, he said he knows McClain would feel the same way.
"We've talked about it before but I know Kyle would have rather (died) overseas than a drunk driving accident or falling through the ice or something like that," Nelson said. "It's just how it works out."