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CPT Anthony Fuscellaro '05

Nininger Award 2013

Answering the Call: The 2013 Nininger Award

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Anthony Fuscellaro ’05 was a plebe who had just completed Beast Barracks and was now overwhelmed by the rigors of West Point academics. Then planes slammed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and the United States was at war. “September 11 changed the cadet mindset overnight,” Fuscellaro said. “You enter West Point thinking you are going to do something great, but not knowing what your test or challenge will be.” On the evening of September 11, 2013, after meeting two crucial challenges while serving as a Pilot-in-Command of an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior in support of combat operations in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom, Captain Fuscellaro returned to West Point to be honored as the eighth recipient of the Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms.

The 12th Anniversary of 9/11 also figured prominently in Superintendent LTG Robert Caslen’s ’75 opening remarks to the Corps of Cadets at the Nininger Award Dinner in the Mess Hall.  “9/11 birthed a new generation of Americans who saw their country attacked and decided to do something about it,” Caslen said. “Captain Fuscellaro and his peers answered the call of duty to stand in the path between the evil that’s out there and the values of our Nation and our way of life.”

While the SUPT might have been speaking figuratively, Fuscellaro literally flew in evil’s path on two occasions, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross for each run.  On August 24, 2009, his quick thinking and actions in combat, which included hanging out the left side of his aircraft to fire M4 rounds at numerous enemy insurgents after exhausting his Kiowa’s supply of rockets and .50 caliber ammunition, created a diversion and allowed an Engineering team on the ground to escape an attack. And on December 24, 2009, Fuscellaro again exposed himself to heavy enemy fire while using all available weapons, including his M4, to take out targets firing at his Kiowa in a triangular ambush.

During his acceptance speech, Fuscellaro shared his thoughts on the role of decision making and training, using his experiences in Afghanistan as illustration. After relating the extreme situations he negotiated, which demonstrated the reality of the fog and friction of war read about at West Point, he told the cadets, “You too will face difficult, spontaneous decision making; when you do, trust your judgment, your critical thinking abilities, and rely on your training.” In an interview before the ceremony, Fuscellaro stated, “Training and leadership lessons at West Point are, in the vast majority of cases, very subtle, but ultimately West Point teaches cadets to perform under stress from Day 1.” He added to this in the conclusion of his speech saying, “Combine demanding training with your West Point leadership education, and you will successfully lead our Nation’s sons and daughters."

For his success, Fuscellaro earned the Nininger Award, which is named for Second Lieutenant Alexander R. Nininger ’41, who posthumously received the first Medal of Honor in WWII, and is endowed by E. Douglas Kenna ’45 and Jean Kenna. However, he does not necessarily see his acts as special in any way. Addressing the valor aspect which earned him the award, Fuscellaro said, “It wasn’t a choice to be valorous or heroic; it was simply a choice between two options—both bad—and West Pointers are taught to choose the one that put others ahead of ourselves.” He was also humble when explaining the success of the Class of 2005, which has been awarded four of the eight Nininger Awards presented. “My class has known nothing but war over the last 12 years, so the opportunity has been there for us to succeed,” he said. “Fortunately, many from ’05 have done so… far more than have been recognized by a Nininger Award.” As the 2013 recipient, Fuscellaro will represent all West-Point commissioned officers who have served in combat. He is off to a great start.
[homepage feature photo: Battista/DPTMS]