Hours after phoning home, Stewartville, Minn., soldier killed

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2012 - 11:24 PM

He called from Afghanistan to wish his brother happy birthday.

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Thursday, Nicholas Dickhut’s photo was taken as his unit worked through an abandoned building in a hunt for Afghan fighters who had fired on the unit.

Photo: Baz Ratner, Reuters

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Nick Dickhut called his little brother David on Sunday from Afghanistan to wish him a happy ninth birthday. Nick said he couldn't talk long. He was about to go out on a mission. A few hours later, his parents had to explain to David that he would never talk to his big brother again.

The 23-year-old Stewartville, Minn., soldier was killed Sunday morning by small-arms fire in Afghanistan, the first Minnesota casualty in Afghanistan in 2012.

"I don't think it's sunk in. David doesn't get it yet, the fact that he's never coming home again, that he's never going to see him again," said Jacqueline Carson, the mother of the two. "The hardest thing was talking to him Saturday and Sunday and hearing about his plans for the future. And now he's not coming back. The idea that he's not coming back is hard to wrap your arms around."

Sgt. Nicholas Dickhut died during a firefight in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, his parents were told Sunday. Dickhut was a forward observer, on the front lines to identify and communicate enemy positions for other units. He was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and attached to the 82nd Airborne. It was his second deployment to Afghanistan. His mother said he did not talk much about this deployment, which began in December.

But a photo of him pointing his rifle at a doorway after coming under fire by the Taliban while on patrol in Zharay district in Kandahar province was taken Thursday by a Reuters photographer. The picture shows Dickhut pointing his weapon toward an entrance to an abandoned building, as light streams in.

The picture made its way around the world quickly and Dickhut used instant messaging to describe to his mother what was happening: There had been a firefight and the shooters had fled from the building. Four of the shooters were visible from a nearby treeline but the soldiers thought they had seen a fifth.

Late Monday, the U.S. military had not officially confirmed Dickhut's death, but his stepfather said military personnel told the family an investigation was continuing.

Dickhut left a supervisor's job at a Rochester-area Office Max to join the military. At 17, he often trained new employees. "He got along with people," said Adam Judy, a manager of the store. "He was young when he was a supervisor. But he knew what he was doing."

He blew out a knee during a first deployment to Afghanistan and could have faced medical discharge. But he rehabbed his knee and requested a second deployment.

"He thought it was something new and interesting and he was having some fun with it," said his stepfather, Randall Carson. "He was always gung-ho. Everything he did, he did 120 percent."

A 2007 graduate of Stewartville High School, Dickhut spent his last two high school years in post secondary classes at Rochester Community College. When he graduated from high school, he was only a credit short of an associate's degree.

Bruce Hoff, principal, said Dickhut performed well in English and had a fascination with American history, particularly related to wars and veterans. When news of Dickhut's death made its way to the high school, a counselor told Hoff she had recently received an e-mail from him asking for a transcript of his records. He planned to take online classes.

"He was always smiling," Hoff said. "I was thinking of that smile today."

Dickhut told his parents he hoped to be assigned to an airborne unit in Italy for jump school and was considering becoming a helicopter pilot. Both Dickhut's mother and stepfather were in the Army. He joined out of a sense of serving his country but also to gain new experiences he might otherwise miss if he stayed home.

"It's kind of small town-ish here," his mother said. "There's a lot of people who live their whole lives in a town like this and they don't get to see things. I agreed with him that getting new experiences, knowing what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, that the Army would be good to do that."

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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