Off the Base: Navy Vet, Private Contractor Dave Nicholson
Navy veteran Dave Nicholson is on a mission to raise public awareness about the role of private contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq and to dispel myths about their work.
The fit, 56-year-old visited WUSF’s studios and talked with reporter Bobbie O’Brien as part of our ongoing series, Off the Base, that focuses on the lives of military families and veterans.
Nicholson wore a "Fly Navy" cap and a blue polo shirt with a Lockheed Martin logo. He has served both. The certified aviation mechanic served 12 years in the Navy before being medically discharged due to a blood disorder.
Nicholson worked in the public realm but missed the travel and sense of service he had in the military. So, he joined the ranks of private contractor because he felt he still had something to give.
He worked in Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and most recently at an undisclosed Combat Out Post in Afghanistan for Lockheed Martin on a classified project.
That’s where on April 28, 2011 – during a rocket attack which happened daily – Nicholson and his Lockheed teammates didn’t make it to a concrete bunker in time.
A rocket exploded 10 feet in front of them killing two of his teammates and severely injuring Nicholson.
“A lot of people say, ‘Are you bitter you lost both your legs trying to be a contractor in Afghanistan?’ and I look at it from a different perspective,” Nicholson said. “That’s a small price I personally paid so that others don’t have to. I protected them, that’s priceless. You can’t put a dollar amount on the good that we did.”
His recovery as a double amputee and a private contractor is different than that of active duty military injured in Afghanistan. He has to rely on Workers Compensation for his prosthetics, crutches, wheelchair and things like a van.
Nicholson is up to the challenge with the aid of his two bionic legs.
“It took a lot of hard physical therapy,” Nicholson said, but it’s paying off. He’s at about 85 percent when walking on his computer-controlled bionic legs. He’s ridden a horse, but says the real test will be when he can dance.