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Gazette Premium Content Klee: Fallen soldier was a Bronco, a hero and one of us

By Paul Klee Updated: October 5, 2013 at 7:22 pm

DENVER - Three weeks before Army Staff Sgt. Liam Nevins was killed in Afghanistan, he had the opportunity to return to the United States.

That's sometimes what happens when a Green Beret in the Special Forces is shot in the arm. They get a choice: Stay overseas and let it heal, or go home.

"Going home by himself, without his guys," said Mark Elrod, his command sergeant major, "That would have been like amputating his soul."

Instead, Liam stayed. But he couldn't leave camp, not in his condition. So with his team out in the field, Liam got an idea. He made a PowerPoint presentation.

He videotaped what happens when you leave Sgt. Nevins back at camp.

There was Nevins sitting at the computer.

There was Nevins watching TV.

There was Nevins making lunch.

All in the comfort of his birthday suit.

"I'll tell you what: He showed us that video," Elrod told me, "And we learned real quickly you don't leave Sgt. Nevins at home."

A good laugh? Nevins was always ready.

An American hero? That, too.

As a wounded soldier, Nevins could have returned to Colorado, could have planned the next snowboarding trip with his fiancee Julie, could have packed his 46-inch TV over to Beau's house to watch the next MMA fight.

Not Nevins.

He stayed on the front line, with his teammates in the 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group.

"That's Liam," said Beau Giles, a close friend, who works security for the Broncos. "All he ever did was put other people first."

Sgt. Liam Nevins died Sept. 21. His tour would have ended three weeks later.

"He was really excited to get back to Julie," Giles said. "He was excited to get married."

His 32nd birthday was Sept. 11.

***

I wish I knew Sgt. Liam Nevins. I can tell you everything I've learned about him, but that won't be the same. It just won't.

Liam Nevins, from what I've learned, is everything you want in a son, a friend, a soldier. He was everything you want in a teammate.

Maybe that's why Gov. John Hickenlooper was at Buckley Air Force Base when Nevins was flown home for burial, why an Army chaplain and eight members of the Special Forces showed up at Liam's old house to help his fiancee move in.

"There were majors there," said Giles, a former Marine.

"The response, how they've taken care of his family, has been overwhelming," he said. "I think it shows what people thought of Liam."

I'm able to write about Nevins since he worked security for the Broncos. They play the Cowboys on Sunday. I'll be thinking about a soldier I never met.

With the Broncos, Nevins secured the sideline during games, handled the locker room, performed bed checks on the road. Players watched him bang out dozens of pull-ups in the weightroom, like it was nothing.

I'm able to write about Nevins because he was one of us.

He climbed up mountains, rode his bike on mountains, backpacked through mountains. Maybe his favorite thing was snowboarding with Julie.

"He considered Colorado his home," Elrod told me at an event for the Support-A-Soldier foundation.

Nevins attended Metro State, Elrod said. He was raised in Philadelphia.

I don't believe in coincidence. So isn't it odd the Broncos were hosting the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, the day before he was returned home?

The Broncos paid tribute to Nevins during the first half of the game. Isn't it odd the Eagles stopped on the sideline and applauded his family?

"Sometimes you get caught up with what's happening on the field," Broncos coach John Fox told me. "We saw it, though. I saw it."

When it comes to military appreciation, the Broncos, as a franchise, get it. Soldiers attend training camp from the sideline. Peyton Manning wrote a journal during a USO Tour in the Middle East. Fox is the son of a Navy SEAL instructor.

"I think because of what the players do - operating in a teamwork setting and having a commitment and sacrifice - I think they have great respect for the miliary," Fox said. "Do they have a complete understanding of what it's like to be on the front lines? Until you do that, I don't think you really understand it.

"But doing something that's bigger than yourself, whether that's protection of the citizens or your teammate in the military, that's similar. The leadership in our military is incredible. I don't think it gets enough credit in normal society for how great it is."

***

When Giles first met Nevins, working with the Broncos, he thought Liam was "spazzy, like he could never concentrate on one thing."

"The more I got to know him it was because he was already thinking of something else he could do, something else he could go accomplish," Giles said. "He always had a mission. He always felt like he could be doing more."

So Nevins returned to the Army. He left his work with the Broncos and qualified for Special Forces. He once sent an email to a buddy that said he would serve for the rest of his life, if he could.

"He was perfect for what we do in Special Forces," Elrod said.

"We don't fear death. When you get into this, you know dying is a possibility," the master command sergeant continued. "You have to accept that.

"But that doesn't make this any easier. It's hard."

I didn't know Sgt. Nevins. Wish I did.

-

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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