A retired Special Forces soldier died in Ukraine after an apparent building collapse amid a Russian artillery barrage in the embattled city of Bakhmut, according to U.S. officials, claims from a Russian paramilitary leader, and media reports.
Nicholas Maimer, who retired from the National Guard as a staff sergeant, was working with a non-profit group seeking to aid civilians and train Ukrainian troops, CNN cited fellow Americans working in Ukraine as saying.
A spokesperson for the Idaho National Guard, from which Maimer retired on Dec. 24, 2018, with an honorable discharge, expressed condolences to the veteran’s family.
“Our hearts and prayers are with the family of Nicholas Maimer, along with his friends in the community,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Borders in a phone interview.
Borders said that Maimer’s military career took him from the active duty Army to the Idaho Army National Guard, with intervening stints in the Utah and California Guard as well. Maimer, who earned his Special Forces tab while with a Utah unit in 2005, was qualified as a Special Forces engineer sergeant, an infantryman, a cavalry scout and a tank crewman.
The leader of the Wagner Group private military corporation, Yevgeny Prigozhin, appeared in a Tuesday video posted to Telegram that displayed a body and U.S. documents that appeared to belong to Maimer. The Russian oligarch claimed Maimer had been directly fighting against his troops, who have borne the brunt of Russia’s bloody drive to capture the city in eastern Ukraine, and deserved “respect because he did not die in his bed as a grandpa but he died at war,” according to a CNN translation.
Military Times could not independently verify the video’s authenticity, but Maimer’s uncle told the Idaho Statesman that the body in the video was that of his nephew.
A State Department spokesperson, speaking anonymously to discuss an American citizen’s reported death, told Military Times that officials are aware of the reports of the death of a U.S. citizen in Bakhmut and are seeking additional information. The spokesperson cautioned that their ability to verify death reports is “extremely limited” and reiterated that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict.
It’s not clear whether Maimer had experienced combat before he went to Ukraine.
Borders, the Idaho Guard spokesperson, provided a list of Maimer’s awards and decorations that did not include any specific War on Terror expeditionary ribbons or combat badges. But Borders noted the difficulty of compiling Guard troops’ service records, particularly for soldiers like Maimer who transferred multiple times between states.
The spokesperson said Maimer deployed to the Philippines as a Utah National Guard Special Forces sergeant from September 2006 until May 2007, though it’s not clear what duties he or his unit held.
According to archived press releases, the Utah Guard-led 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group completed a nine-month rotation with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines during that time. Troops assigned to that task force, which operated under the Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines banner, were not authorized to participate in combat save for self-defense scenarios, according to a 2016 RAND report.
Troops who participated in that mission were authorized the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, but Maimer’s seemingly-incomplete records do not include one. Other service awards did not include devices to which Maimer should have been entitled.
Maimer received at least one Army Commendation Medal and five Army Achievement Medals during his 20-year career, Borders said.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.