Capt. Nate Nelms, SuperCobra pilot watching over Marines on ground

In high school, Nate Nelms was being touted as one of the best tennis players at his age in the nation.

Tennis did take him places, just not exactly where people thought it would.

When he was 14, a freshman at Camden County High School, he was ranked No. 8 in the world in tennis for his age group. But when the time came to choose a college, he chose the Naval Academy.

“My dad’s military service in the Navy was a factor and growing up so close to Kings Bay,” he said. “Then, of course, were the events of 9/?11 when I was a freshman.”

Though the Naval Academy was a tip of his hat to his father, “Joining the Marines was me wanting to go my own way,” he said. “They gave me the opportunity to fly and work with the guys on the ground.”

Marine Capt. Nate Nelms is now a SuperCobra pilot delivering backhands of a different kind and spending this Christmas flying ground support missions out of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

For his parents, this will be the first Christmas he’s not home.

“This will be the first Christmas we’ve had without him,” his father said. “It’ll be kind of dreary here without him.”

Nelms will also be spending Christmas away from his new bride, a naval aviator, whom he married shortly before he deployed. She’ll deploy just before he returns home next year.

“Maybe I can catch her on a port call,” he said.

For soldiers and Marines in war zones, combat patrols and guard duty on Christmas Day are just a part of the job. And for some, it actually helps a little.

Nelms said he’ll be working.

“I actually prefer to work,” he said. “It kind of takes your mind off everything.”

Marines on the ground will no doubt be glad he’s working.

For infantry soldiers in a firefight, there is no sweeter sound than an attack helicopter. Nelms’ SuperCobra provides this cover as well as reconnaissance for the grunts on the ground.

Without friends in the air, their view of the battlefield is limited.

“First and foremost, everything supports the infantry and the guys on the ground,” he said. “We give overhead security providing air cover for ground patrols and transport, reconning routes and helping with FOB [forward operating base] security.”

For Thanksgiving, Nelms and the maintenance crew took a few moments off to get to the big chow hall on the base. He thought the crews deserved it.

“Make sure they get a shout-out,” he told the Times-Union. “They work 24 hours a day and we wouldn’t fly without them.”

The Christmas schedule may not allow for a similar getaway.

Though Capt. Nelms won't be home for Christmas, his father's thoughts and prayers are in Afghanistan with Nate and his Marines.

“The American people don’t know what these kids are doing and they’re really sacrificing,” his father said. “I went through Vietnam from the beginning to the end and I’ve never seen such a group of patriotic kids.”

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