Captain Lindsay Heisler ’12, the 2019 recipient of the Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms, didn’t grow up wanting to go to West Point: she grew up wanting to play soccer. But when she was invited by the Army Women’s Soccer Team coach to visit the Academy, she met the team and the rest is history. “Because of the team, I chose to apply and then to attend West Point,” says Heisler, “and I’m really glad that I went.” In an interview prior to the Nininger Award ceremony, Heisler acknowledged that West Point, with all its requirements for cadets, put her in a lot of pressure situations. “The repetition of being put in these situations, when you have so many competing priorities, helped prepare me and made things easier for me when it mattered most—down range.”
On December 15, 2015, Heisler was serving as a co-pilot/gunner of an AH-64 Apache helicopter while deployed with the 1-101st Aviation Regiment (“Task Force Shadow”) to Bagram, Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel when she engaged enemy forces during the extraction of a Ranger unit. Despite taking indirect fire from all directions, Heisler and her pilot positioned their Apache directly between U.S. troops and enemy forces as the extraction got underway, and she continually fired rounds from the chopper’s 30mm chain gun to draw fire away from the Rangers and to suppress the enemy. “We knew we had to do something,” says Heisler, “So, anywhere I saw fire originate, I fired back.” After the engagement, Heisler watched a recording of the event at the debrief and now says, “Seeing it afterwards, when I had time to process what had happened, I’m just very thankful we were all able to get back safely.”
As she explained to the Corps of Cadets gathered in the Mess Hall for the Nininger Award dinner, teamwork and the preparation for pressure situations, two lessons that figured prominently in her West Point experience, are the elements that “brought every American home that night.” Regarding the importance of teamwork, Heisler said, “Understand that when you become platoon leaders it is not about you: it’s about making every soldier in your platoon successful and enabling them as a team to accomplish their mission.” And regarding preparation, Heisler told the cadets, “You need to prepare every day to ensure that you are ready for when you are called upon to do your job at a moment’s notice.”
Cadets took Heisler’s words to heart. “I thought it was super inspiring how she related to us as a Corps,” said Cadet Elisabeta Aversa ’23, “and her lessons on teamwork and preparation are ones I’ll take with me as a learn how to be an effective platoon leader.”
“What she did is absolutely amazing and extremely courageous,” said Cadet LeAllan Buerger ’22, “and it showed me that, in the heat of the moment, all of our training will really pay off.”
“Courage under fire, facing and overcoming fear and adversity, putting others before self—these are all the core qualities that shape who we are and who we strive to be as soldiers and members of the profession of arms,” said Lieutenant General Darryl Williams ’83, the 60th Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy. “Captain Heisler epitomizes those qualities and embodies the West Point values of Duty, Honor, Country.”
In selecting her for the 2019 Nininger Award, the West Point Association of Graduates recognizes Captain Lindsay Heisler for her personal bravery and leadership and regards her as a representative of all West Point-commissioned officers who have heroically led soldiers in combat.
The Nininger Award was established in 2006 on a suggestion from Mr. Doug Kenna ’45 that WPAOG bring the valorous combat deeds of West Point graduates in the Global War on Terrorism to the attention of the Corps of Cadets. The award is presented each year through an endowment created by Mr. Kenna and his wife, Jean. The Nininger Award is named in honor of Lieutenant Alexander R. “Sandy” Nininger Jr. ’41, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II. On January 12, 1942, Nininger voluntarily attached himself to another company in his Philippine Scouts regiment that was under heavy attack by Japanese forces near Abucay, Bataan. Wounded several times, he continued to advance in a counterattack and destroy enemy positions until he was killed.
August 27, 2019
West Point, NY: The West Point Association of Graduates is pleased to announce that Captain Lindsay Gordon Heisler, Class of 2012, has been selected to receive the 2019 Alexander Nininger Award for Valor at Arms. The Nininger Award will be presented on October 24, 2019, at West Point, New York. Heisler is soon to take her second company command of Delta Company, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, “Wolfpack,” 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
In 2015, Heisler deployed as a platoon leader with Alpha Company, 1-101st Aviation Regiment, Task Force Shadow, to Bagram, Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. On December 5, 2015, she was serving as a co-pilot/gunner of an AH-64 Apache helicopter with Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Woodward when they received orders to assist the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment with the extraction of a Ranger unit engaged in a firefight with enemy troops near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Once over the objective area, Heisler proceeded to engage the insurgents with 120 rounds of 30mm high explosive dual-purpose ammunition. She then identified a mortar team located just inside Pakistan and, after receiving clearance of fire from the Joint Terminal Attack Controller, eliminated that threat as well. Heisler and Woodward then positioned their Apache directly between U.S. troops and enemy forces as the extraction got underway, continually using rounds from their 30mm chain gun to draw fire away from the assault force and suppress the enemy in the area. According to the narrative of the Distinguished Flying Cross she received for her actions, “1LT Gordon’s exceptional aerial coverage and application of timely and accurate fires allowed the Helicopter Assault Force to safely land and extract the ground force despite the assault aircraft receiving significant battle damage on the LZ.”
In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, Heisler has been awarded two Air Medals, the Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Army Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Combat Action Badge, the Aviator Badge, and the Air Assault Badge.