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Captain Kevin Mott '07

2014 NIninger Award Recipient

Like thousands of graduates before him, CPT Kevin W. Mott ’07 accepted an offer to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point because he “wanted to make a difference.” What a difference he has made, especially while fighting in Afghanistan as a platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment (“No Slack”), 101st Airborne Division during Operation Strong Eagle III. Anticipated to last just a few days, this mission to clear an insurgent stronghold in the Kunar Province turned into a nine-day battle against a well-fortified enemy. “Their command and control ability was amazing,” said Mott. “Before we moved down the mountain to clear the Kalats, they mobilized unseen into the hills and spread out across 10-15 kilometers worth of terrain.”

On the first day of the mission, March 27, 2011, his unit was ambushed as soon as it lost its air support after a storm moved into the valley. Eleven soldiers in his platoon’s lead section were cut off and under heavy fire from all directions. Three were shot. Mott radioed in the casualties. He then put himself in the line of enemy fire so that his pinned fire team could move to a better position. Finally, getting to a position where he could see the enemy (less than 50 meters away), he called in indirect fire, effectively suppressing the enemy. “This went on for nine days,” said Mott, “with something bad happening in the mission every day.”

For his actions during Operation Strong Eagle III, Mott received a Silver Star, which MG Dana J.H. Pittard ’81, Commander of the 1st Armor Division, pinned on Mott a week before his third deployment to Afghanistan as the assistant operations officer for the 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division. “You may be wondering what our warrior ethos looks like,” Pittard told those in attendance at the ceremony. “Well, I can tell you that it’s personified by this man, CPT Kevin Mott.”

Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen ’75 echoed Pittard’s words to the Corps during his Superintendent’s introduction of Mott at the 2014 Nininger ceremony held in the Mess Hall. Caslen also told the cadets that Mott had been wounded during his first deployment in Afghanistan just nine months prior to the events for which he was receiving the Nininger Award—he was shot in the head and fell down a ravine, suffering four fractured vertebrae, a broken rib, a broken ankle and a torn shoulder ligament, and needing 50 sutures and staples to close the wound in his head. “Not hesitating to act and step forward into harm’s way to fight alongside his Soldiers, Mott is truly an incredible leader who embodies the values of the United States Military Academy and the Army,” Caslen said.  SEE PHOTOS OF NININGER AWARD CEREMONY

In his acceptance speech, Mott focused on the “grit, loyalty and sacrifice” of his Soldiers, highlighting two who paid the ultimate sacrifice. “He didn’t talk about himself at all,” said CDT Aaron Pell ’15. “The Corps should be inspired that, in spite of the fact this award is about his valor and his action, his remarks were all about his Soldiers and how their memory keeps him going.”

Mott also directly addressed the cadets in his speech. “I would like you to know that West Point does prepare you to lead Soldiers into combat,” he told them. He also told them to trust their future non-commissioned officers: “Today’s NCOs are intelligent and experienced…and will take pride in helping you become a great lieutenant.” Finally, and perhaps most important, Mott encouraged the cadets not to settle for mediocrity. “The great Americans we call Soldiers are our Nation’s sons and daughters,” he said. “They deserve the very best training, equipping and inspiration you can muster.”

The Corps took Mott’s lessons to heart. Speaking about overcoming mediocrity in leadership, CDT Joshua Olivas ’16 said, “It’s something about which we hear quite often as cadets, but it is good to be reminded that leading our Nation’s sons and daughters is an honor and a privilege, and that they and their families deserve our very best.”

Presented by the West Point Association of Graduates and endowed by E. Douglas Kenna ’45 and his wife Jean, the Nininger Award is named for Second Lieutenant Alexander R. Nininger ’41, who fought the enemy to his death during the Battle of Bataan in January 1942 and posthumously received WWII’s first Medal of Honor. In addition to recognizing the recipient for his or her bravery as an individual, WPAOG regards the recipient as a given year’s representative for all West Point-commissioned officers who have heroically led Soldiers in combat.