A Tribute to Nick
Published: Monday, May 14, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 14, 2012 22:05
As a Marine Corps veteran and member of the Stern community for the past two years, I usually peruse the military articles in the “Oppy” with interest. At the end of each article, the authors traditionally list the names of recently deceased service members as a way of remembering America’s sons and daughters who have made the ultimate sacrifice. One of the names listed this past fall was that of Marine Staff Sergeant Nicholas Sprovtsoff, a highly decorated member of the elite Marine Special Operations Command. I had the great privilege of knowing Nick and would like to pay special tribute to his life by sharing a few stories of this incredible warrior. I hope these brief vignettes give this community better insight into the kind of men and women that make up the Marine Corps and America’s Armed Forces.
Nick was born and raised in hardscrabble Flint, Michigan—a fact he proudly displayed with his favorite “Flint – the Toughest Town Around” t-shirt. A quintessential handyman, Nick had an uncanny ability to fix all things mechanical. He was the type that could repair just about anything with duct tape and a screwdriver. Nick enlisted after graduating high school in the spring of 2001 and was immediately off to Marine Boot Camp.
During the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Nick’s unit drove into an enemy-held city with Nick manning a machine gun atop an armored vehicle. Their vehicle was disabled during a fierce firefight. Most people, operating under the normal human instinct of self-preservation, would have fled the disabled vehicle, but “handyman” Nick decided to improvise and keep moving. Swiftly unmounting the 100-pound, 50-caliber machine gun, he sprinted through the firefight to affix it to another armored vehicle. For his heroics, Nick was awarded a prestigious medal for Combat Valor. True to his humble nature, whenever Nick was asked why he was honored with this award, he would claim that it was for doing outstanding administrative work. That was the type of Marine Nick was: never seeking adulation or attention, just a Marine’s Marine who was happy to have served his brothers well in combat.
After a second deployment where he saw combat in the insurgent-held city of Fallujah, Nick was transferred to a new duty station in Hawaii where he met his future wife. Nick soon found a place on a team of “combat advisors” embedded to train and fight alongside the fledgling Afghan National Army. When given the chance to join a specialized team deploying in the treacherous mountains bordering Pakistan, Nick quickly volunteered. During this yearlong deployment, Nick lived with one other American and a 30-man platoon of Afghan soldiers in a small outpost on the Pakistan border that saw daily attacks. Through it all, Nick endured and returned safely to Hawaii in August 2007.
While enjoying his time home with his now-fiancée, Nick learned that one of the Marines on the team that had replaced his had been killed early in their deployment. Though he had just completed three back-to-back deployments and was scheduled to get married, Nick stayed true to his colors and did the only thing he could imagine: he volunteered to take the dead Marine’s place. Having only recently returned from this harsh climate, Nick felt that he was the most qualified to fill the void. Instead of proceeding with their formal wedding, he and his fiancée married in a courthouse ceremony during his lunch break. They promised each other they would have a full-blown wedding celebration upon his return. Always a man of his word, Nick made it through his fourth combat tour and returned home to his loving wife ready to celebrate their new marriage in fine form.
After his fourth consecutive combat tour and having spent 18 out of the last 21 months deployed, Nick continued on his stellar career and volunteered for assignment to the Marine Corp’s most elite unit – Marine Special Operations Command. After acing grueling special operations training courses, Nick joined a team from 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion and prepared to deploy to Afghanistan. He left behind his pregnant wife and 6-month-old daughter to work alongside fellow troops from the US Special Operations Command and members of the Afghan military. Although most of his missions remain classified, his job was to partner with the fledgling Afghan forces and provide security for villages occupied by the Taliban in the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.
As the days of his fifth deployment drew to a close, Nick’s family and friends eagerly awaited his arrival home—especially his 14-month-old daughter and his wife, who was by then 8 months pregnant with their second child. But tragedy struck. Nick was killed on a combat mission on September 28, 2011 with only weeks to go before his return home.
Nick was buried with full military honors on Thursday, October 6th at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60, the area reserved for recent casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan. While it was incredibly sad, Nick’s funeral was also one of the most impressive events I have ever witnessed. According to our proud and time-honored tradition, the Marine Corps took care of its own, quickly repatriating and burying Nick’s remains to accommodate his pregnant wife. The Marine Corps honored its hero, Nick, with a flag-draped caisson, the Marine’s famed Silent Drill Platoon, and the Commandant’s own band. In a final show of respect, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps—the highest-ranking enlisted leader of the Marines—presented the flag that covered Nick’s casket to his family.