Staff Sgt. Nicholas Reid showed up at his Joint Base Lewis-McChord explosives unit in 2008 with more passion than knowledge about the dangerous specialty he chose.
He left it two months ago as an expert, someone fellow soldiers admired for the intensity he brought to his job disabling enemy bombs – and for the wild spirit he showed after hours.
Reid, 26, died Dec. 13, 2012, from wounds he suffered earlier that month when an insurgent bomb struck near him on his second deployment to Afghanistan.
His friends and peers in Lewis-McChord’s sister explosives units gathered Wednesday to remember him as a stand-out soldier who left a mark on their closely knit community.
“If you measure a man by how he affected those around him, then there is no better man than Nick,” friend and mentor Sgt. 1st Class Manuel Sanchez said Wednesday.
Reid grew up in Brockport, N.Y., and joined the Army in 2006. In childhood photos his family provided for the memorial, the pale-faced boy sported a mop of red hair and held a musket in his hand.
He filled out after a couple years wearing real Army fatigues. His chest grew thick and his features darkened from long hours spent under the sun at war or practicing his mission at home.
Sanchez watched that change over time while he served with Reid in the 53rd Explosive Ordnance Company. He accompanied the younger soldier on his first tasks with the unit, and he was with him years later when Reid earned promotions to become an explosives team leader calling the shots about how to handle deadly bombs.
“It gave him satisfaction and pride that he was keeping people safe,” Sanchez said.
They grew close in their downtime. Reid and Sanchez would light out on motorcycle rides after work. They formed a riding club.
Sanchez remembered his buddy singing a karaoke version of Cher’s “I Believe,” complete with choreographed moves.
“That was Nick. He didn’t care what he had to do. He wanted people to be happy around him,” Sanchez said.
He also remembered Reid as reliably late for every social outing, so much so that friends started making bets about how long it would take him to show up. He’d get there eventually, and usually with “Some amazing story about the night before.”
Reid’s company commander liked to tease him about his short stature and red hair. Capt. Chad Juhlin would joke that Reid was the company’s leprechaun, and it became a running gag.
Juhlin also recalled Reid as a tireless professional.
“He would be outside training with his team or inside complaining about not being outside training with his team,” he said.
Juhlin traveled with Reid when he was evacuated out of Afghanistan in December. The captain stayed with Reid for a stop at a military hospital in Germany, and finally back to the U.S. with the soldier’s remains.
Juhlin is back in Afghanistan with his company finishing up its deployment.
“Losing a member of this tight unit hurts more than words can say,” he wrote in remarks read at the memorial.