‘That Was Nick’: Special Forces Vet Killed in Ukraine Remembered as Massive-Hearted Protector

Nick Maimer’s send-off was like another household occasion, stuffed with laughter and fond recollections. The Army Special Forces veteran and Idaho native was heading to Spain to show English in early 2022.

Nobody on the time, not even Maimer himself, knew he would find yourself within the thick of struggle in Ukraine. The retired workers sergeant, 45, was killed within the jap metropolis of Bakhmut, Ukraine, this week after an obvious barrage of artillery destroyed the constructing he was in.

Like different American veterans, he was drawn to the battle and want there, as Ukrainians fend off an invasion of Russian forces — a David and Goliath battle, Western democracy in opposition to the aggressive authoritarian navy would possibly of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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“He is a protector,” Nate Peterson, a choose advocate normal within the Idaho Nationwide Guard and Maimer’s step-cousin, informed Army.com on Thursday. “I do know lots of people who would die for household, lots of people who would die for nation, however I do know only a few individuals who would go some other place and die for another person’s freedom, someone else’s rights and liberties. And that was Nick.”

In a grim twist, Maimer’s demise was broadcast world wide by a Russian mercenary group. Within the video, the Wagner Group’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, flashes Maimer’s ID playing cards and stands over his physique amid the ruins of the besieged metropolis.

“So, we’ll go him alongside to the USA of America, we’ll put him in a coffin, and canopy him with an American flag as a result of he did not die in his mattress an previous man however died in struggle and almost definitely in a worthy means, proper?” Prigozhin says within the black-and-white video.

The propaganda video “pissed off” and damage Maimer’s family members, in line with pals, household and members of his former unit who spoke to Army.com. It was unfair of their eyes that this was how the world got here to know the person they described as a big-hearted and passionate protector.

After Army.com interviewed greater than half a dozen pals, household and colleagues about Maimer, a transparent picture of an uninhibited, come-as-you-are veteran and pal emerged.

Peterson remembered tutoring Maimer at Boise State College the place they each attended and seeing him across the Idaho Nationwide Guard the place they each served. Maimer was a rocket at trivia and a self-taught audiophile and, if something dangerous went down, Peterson needed him on his facet.

Invoice Fackler, a retired Army veteran and present civilian worker for the Idaho Nationwide Guard, knew Maimer for greater than a decade. They had been pals and labored collectively processing personnel out and in of the unit, he mentioned.

“When he did one thing, he did it 150%,” Fackler informed Army.com on Wednesday. “And he additionally was the form of man that will give his shirt off his again to anyone.

“In case you wanted a room to sleep in, he would hand over his place,” Fackler added, recounting that Maimer supplied his place to wayward members of the unit on a number of events.

In January 2022, when Maimer and his household had been having a final celebration earlier than he left, Jap Europe wasn’t at struggle and the retired workers sergeant was trying to educate English in Spain. On the similar time, it was turning into more and more clear that Putin was about to launch a full-scale invasion into Ukraine.

In late February, he did — and Maimer needed to assist the Ukrainians in any means he might.

“I had that sturdy inside debate on whether or not I ought to, what I might contribute,” he informed NBC months earlier than he died, although the information community had hid his id on the time. “Ought to I settle for the chance? Finally, I made a decision that it was price it to assist Ukraine.”

Fackler tried to speak him out of going, he mentioned, “however I knew it was ineffective.”

“You do not have to do that,” he recounted telling Maimer. “I respect you, however that is really harmful.”

Maimer entered the nation via Poland round March, on the lookout for a corporation to hitch and put his Special Forces expertise to make use of. He first tried the Mozart Group — a now defunct, pro-Ukrainian non-public navy firm that shuttered earlier this yr.

Maimer’s story picked up round April 2022 when he met retired Lt. Col. Perry Blackburn, founding father of the non-profit AFGFree, a gaggle offering humanitarian assist and coaching in Ukraine.

The connection between the retired workers sergeant and the group, as described by Blackburn, consisted of periodic check-ins and a large berth of duty for “companions” like Maimer.

“No one controls anybody’s actions or operations,” Blackburn, additionally a retired Inexperienced Beret, mentioned of his group. “They only go to, after which discover the necessity, and we help that want from varied locations inside Ukraine.

“However we’ve a number of people that work inside our networks and do exceptional issues day-after-day,” he added. “And Nick was a kind of individuals.”

He mentioned Maimer was a liaison between his group and Ukraine’s Territorial Protection Forces. He additionally performed website visits to greatest direct assist throughout the nation.

Blackburn recounted a time that he and Maimer had been within the basement of a besieged restaurant engaged on getting gasoline to the entrance and assembly with somebody for assist with logistics help.

“Our eyes are all glassy from the smoke, and there is vodka being given out,” he mentioned.
“And Nick did not contact a drink the entire time. … He stored a degree head all through the entire thing [and], on the finish of it, once we got here all the way down to the brass tacks of negotiating how this was going to occur, it was Nick that put the advantageous print on how this was going to work.”

That is what Blackburn believes Maimer was doing in Bakhmut, the present epicenter of the struggle and website of Ukraine’s counter-offensive in opposition to Russia. He believes Maimer was there on a website go to to greatest present humanitarian logistics to the world.

Blackburn mentioned that he and Maimer spoke final about three weeks earlier than his demise when there have been rumors of an enormous offensive that was going to happen on Ukraine’s jap entrance.

“We additionally understood that there was a chance that we wanted to be there to assist herald provides for Russian-occupied areas, to the civilians, as a result of each time it occurs, there is no commerce that comes out and in of that space,” he mentioned.

“So, I imagine that he was there with the Territorial Protection doing an evaluation to find out the place the most effective locations had been that wanted probably the most assist,” he added. “And sadly he acquired caught in that irregular battlefield geometry and acquired hit by Russian artillery.”

The Wagner video, which was launched Tuesday, emerged shortly after.

“Right here we’ve a veteran, Nicholas,” Prigozhin mentioned after mumbling about “navy humor” within the video.

The video confirmed what Fackler and Blackburn mentioned was Maimer’s physique.

“It was the toughest factor I’ve ever seen,” Fackler informed Army.com.

“That is not what skilled troopers do,” Blackburn mentioned. “It is simply actually, actually upsetting to the household — the household’s seen it — they needed to know that the household was going to see it. It simply exhibits the callousness of them.”

The video traveled throughout the web and, in pro-Russian circles, was used to painting Maimer as a mercenary himself.

“To suppose that he went over there to make a bunch of cash as a mercenary and combat the Russians is inaccurate,” Blackburn informed Army.com. “His primary emphasis was to assist with humanitarian assist and assist prepare them to facilitate that humanitarian assist the place wanted.”

After his demise was publicized within the video, pals expressed their love for Maimer over social media, persistently referring to his compassion. He was a humanitarian, as one individual wrote. A gaggle with 100 members emerged on Fb with pals and family members sharing footage and tales about Maimer.

Others, like Karl Watts, who met Maimer via the Massive Brother program when he was simply 12 years previous, mentioned that the previous soldier had his “ups and downs” all through his life.

“He was brave, he pursued life with a ardour, he had power to work via and overcome a variety of the unfavourable in his life,” Watts mentioned. “That even via all that he was not cynical or pessimistic — he by some means carried this very optimistic angle, a smile on his face via all of it.”

Zac Feuerborn, a cousin who grew up with Maimer since he was a toddler and reconnected with him as adults, mentioned {that a} phrase that rings acquainted when he thinks about Maimer is “come as you might be.”

“He was pals with everyone, he accepted everyone for who they had been and the place they had been at of their lives,” he mentioned. “He was a loyal pal.”

Members of his Idaho Nationwide Guard unit recounted Maimer’s lengthy service to the nation and his neighborhood — one which included not less than 4 completely different jobs from cavalry scout to Special Forces engineer to armor crewman and eventually infantryman.

“The man served and served his nation properly past and above what most individuals do,” mentioned Dustin Schenstrom, who retired from the Army after 24 years. He served with Maimer and recounted how the Special Forces NCO helped him via among the hardest moments of his life, even whereas he was within the Ukrainian struggle zone.

“He was an honorable man.” Schenstrom mentioned. “He was a person of service; he undoubtedly needed to serve not solely our nation, however humankind.”

Maimer initially joined the Army in 1996, in line with the service, which supplied his data to Army.com. Over the following 20 years, he rotated between the Idaho, Utah and California Nationwide Guards. He grew to become a Inexperienced Beret in 2005 and deployed with the Utah Guard’s nineteenth Special Forces Group in 2006 to the Philippines.

In 2018, he retired with the Idaho Nationwide Guard as a workers sergeant, taking a nonpunitive, administrative rank discount from sergeant top quality, in line with Fackler — a not unheard-of incidence for Guard members on the lookout for particular jobs in particular states.

“Nick was a member of the Idaho Nationwide Guard,” Lt. Col. Christopher Borders, a spokesperson for the unit, informed Army.com Wednesday. “So this hits near house right here and our hearts and prayers are with him, his household and his pals in the neighborhood.

“He was a valued member, he did a variety of nice issues for this group. And it is unhappy to see one in all our brothers in arms fall, whatever the battle or motion,” Borders mentioned.

Family and friends mentioned they’re attempting to get Maimer’s physique again to the U.S. Peterson, his step-cousin and a JAG officer, mentioned that they hope to bury Maimer in an Idaho navy cemetery.

Feuerborn, his cousin, mentioned that Maimer would need a celebration, too. And even in demise, Maimer’s humor — generally darkish — made Feuerborn chortle.

Maimer as soon as mentioned that if the worst got here to go, he would need to be cremated and his ashes flushed down the bathroom “as a result of ashes are simply ashes.”

“He would do something for the those who he liked,” Feuerborn mentioned.

— Drew F. Lawrence might be reached at drew.lawrence@navy.com. Observe him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

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