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Wounded veteran from Crater High gains new perspective as senator's guest at speech

For most of his 23 years, Army Spec. Nickolas "Nick" Edinger didn't pay much attention to annual State of the Union addresses.

Yet the 2005 Crater High School graduate was all ears Tuesday evening.

"It was really cool," said the son of Scott and Liz Edinger of Central Point. "I have tried to watch things like that on TV a couple of times but it never stuck with me. It's a lot different to be there watching it in person."

In fact, he had one of the best seats in the house, sitting in the galleries as the guest of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

The soldier lost his left foot and ankle to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on March 30, 2010.

In a telephone interview after the speech, Merkley said he had invited Edinger to the annual historic event as a way to show his appreciation for Oregonians who served in military uniform.

"I really enjoyed being around him," Merkley said of Edinger. "I introduced him to about a quarter of the senators. He especially wanted to meet McCain and Kerry. He was able to talk to both of them."

Merkley was referring to Sens. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts. Both McCain and Kerry are decorated veterans from the Vietnam War.

"Nick is so sound on his feet — he seems to be doing well physically," Merkley said. "And I think every senator thanked him for his service."

As for the speech, Merkley, who sat next to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said he appreciated the bipartisan tone.

"I think the tone was about right," Merkley said, although noting he was hoping the foreclosure issue would have been highlighted.

"It was pretty neat to be there," Edinger reiterated. "I'm not going to pretend I really understand everything about all these changes and bills, but it definitely seemed like President Obama wanted to make some changes."

But Edinger also observed there was obvious divisions in the congressional crowd, judging from those who stood and applauded while others did not.

"I've never paid a lot of attention to politics," he said. "But this was very interesting, to see it from this view."

Edinger remains in the Army as an outpatient waiting to receive medical clearance at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Lindsay Mansur Edinger, a 2006 Crater graduate and his high school sweetheart, live in Bethesda, Md.

In a 2010 interview, Edinger told the Mail Tribune that he joined the Army in 2008 to earn GI Bill benefits for college. He planned to pursue a medical career after completing his hitch. Before donning a military uniform, he worked for two years at Rogue Valley Medical Center, helping move patients in the emergency room and the critical care unit.

A member of Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C., he was deployed to Afghanistan in the fall of 2009 as part of an effort to take the fight to the Taliban strongholds in remote areas of that country.

After several months in the Helmand Province, where they helped tame an area where the Taliban had a strong presence, his unit was reassigned in late December of 2009 to Arghandab River Valley. The extremely remote area is near the porous border with Pakistan.

Shortly after noon on March 30, 2010, Edinger stepped on an IED. Relying on his military training and experience at RVMC, he grabbed a field aid kit, pulled out the tourniquet and twisted it around his leg as hard as he could. A bandage was applied to a 6-inch gash on his right leg.

His lower left leg was later surgically amputated halfway between his knee and ankle.

Edinger plans to go to college to become a nurse or a nurse practitioner.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Wounded veteran from Crater High gains new perspective as senator's guest at speech