Staff Sgt. Joseph P. Nichols II said he believes the Bronze Star he received for his service in Afghanistan belongs with the man who inspired him to join the Army -- his father, the late Joseph P. Nichols Sr.
While home on leave for Christmas week, the Lee native, surrounded by immediate family, placed the medal atop his father's headstone at the town's Fairmont Cemetery. An Army veteran of the Vietnam War, Joseph Sr. passed away in 1998, one year after his son enlisted in the Army's military police immediately after graduating from Lee High School.
"If it wasn't for my father, I would have never joined the military and never have gotten the medal," Nichols said from the family home on Bradley Street.
Nichols mother, Danna McQuoid, was worried someone would take the medal if her son had left it at the grave site. Her son comforted her about that concern.
"He said it's not about the medal itself, but the [document] knowing he has the medal," said McQuoid, who is remarried.
Earlier this year, Nichols was awarded the Bronze Star for his meritorious service in Afghanistan between March 2011 and March 2012. Nichols was assigned as a platoon sergeant for the 54th Military Police Company based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington state. He has since been transferred to an Army base in Missouri.
In Afghanistan, the 33-year-old husband and father of two young boys was directly responsible for 42 other MPs. The platoon's mission was to train and mentor the Afghan Uniformed Police in the country's Logar and Wardak provinces. The 54th engaged the enemy more than 35 times during that 12-month period, with Nichols' platoon involved in most of those confrontations, according to the staff sergeant.
Nichols and his soldiers also were awarded the Combat Action Badge for their actions against a hostile enemy.
Nichols said he feels the Bronze Medal belongs to the entire platoon, not just to him.
"It's not about me, but more for what my unit did," he said. "They performed above and beyond the call of duty."
That was no more evident last year than on Sept. 11, when nine of Nichols' MPs were among the 77 U.S. servicemen injured during a suicide bombing at a combat outpost in Sayed Abad.
Nichols and about half of his platoon were elsewhere at the time of the devastating attack that killed three Afghans and miraculously spared the lives of the Americans.
"I credit dumb luck and very good training for everyone coming back alive," he said. "I flew there the next day and saw the wreckage -- half the post was gone."
"It was like a tornado went through," Nichols added.
Given the deadly violence in Afghanistan, Nichols wife, Adonica, noted, "The entire company coming back alive is very rare."
Once an Army MP, Adonica understands the risks of deployment, having done a stint in Honduras during her 41 2 years of service before she and Nichols married.
"When I talk to other Army wives, some freak out about the bad news, but we all still worry," said the native of Washington state.
The couple, who met at Fort Benning, Ga., has two sons: Joseph P. Nichols III, 6, and 2-year-old Jaxson Parker Nichols.
In August, the Nichols family relocated to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where Joseph II says he now helps wounded soldiers adjust to life after combat. Nichols says he plans to remain in the Army five more years before returning to civilian life.
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