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LTC James Enos '00

2021 NININGER AWARD Recipient Speech

LTG and Mrs. Williams, COL Retired and Mrs. Browne, distinguished guests, and most important, the Corps of Cadets. I cannot express how grateful I am for this recognition, and I am honored to receive this year’s Nininger Award. When I was a cadet, an old Ranger came and spoke at our Air Assault graduation and said that whenever you talk to Soldiers you should remember 3 Be’s. Be on time, Be brief, and Be gone. I guess I’m now that old Ranger, so I’ll try to adhere to his advice. I’ll talk a little bit about the events on December 4th, 2006, but I really want to highlight a few things I’ve learned over the course of my career.

Prepare. When the class of ‘22 graduates in 211 days, you will be the first class in 20 years to graduate when our nation is not at war. There is no patch chart, no pre-planned deployment schedule. As future platoon leaders you will have to prepare your Soldiers to deploy at any time.

I know a little something about graduating into this environment. When the Class of 2000 entered West Point in July of 96, the Cold War had just ended, there were no major peer adversaries, and only a few staff and faculty had combat experience in places like Grenada, Panama, or Kuwait. We graduated on the 27th of May 2000 and entered an Army where the major deployment was a peace keeping operation in Kosovo. As a platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), we assumed the Division Ready Force in early September 2001. On September 11th, we went to work to conduct air assault leader training. We had no idea the entire trajectory of our Army careers would change that morning.

So, how do you prepare for combat? In every Infantry unit that I’ve served in we focused on four things: Physical Training, Marksmanship, First Aid, and Battle Drills. These are your basics that you must master as a leader and focus on every day, regardless of your branch. The modern battlefield does not discriminate based on your rank or branch. These basics are just as important for a Transportation unit as they are for Infantry units. In the past two years, elements of the Immediate Response Force have deployed three times. When you load onto an aircraft headed into a combat zone, it is not the time to wish you did an extra hour of physical training, fired more rounds on the range, foot marched a little longer, or rehearsed a battle drill one more time. I challenge you to prepare your Soldiers for combat every day. You owe it to them and one day it will pay off.

Trust. Trust is the foundation of any good unit and it goes both ways. When you earn your Soldier’s trust they will follow you into the darkness in some far off country. In the book Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield describes how a Phalanx operates and that a Spartan’s shield was not for his protection, but for the man next to him. Trust between Soldiers is just as important today as it was at Thermopylae.

Trust our sister services who fight alongside you on the battlefield. On December 4th, we trusted our Marine Corps ANGLICO team to call in Harriers on a gun run to destroy retreating Al Qaeda fighters. We trusted the Navy F/A-18 pilots who rushed to the call of “troops in contact” to provide surveillance and remained on station to drop ordinance for hours. True, on one weekend in December, we battle Navy with everything we have, but that day in Ramadi we proved that on the other 364 days we are teammates on the greatest combat force the world has ever seen.

Trust your Non-Commissioned Officers. Everyone in the Army, from the newest private to the Chief of Staff has an NCO. Mine was First Sergeant Mike Jusino. We fought side by side for 15 months in Ramadi. If either of us ever picked up the phone and needed someone to go to war with, we would not hesitate, we would just grab our kit and go.

Trust your platoon sergeants, like Sergeants First Class Switalski, Robinson, Dougherty who spent December 4th reminding their Soldiers, many of whom had never been in a firefight, to remain calm and that they were trained and ready for that day. Trust your squad leaders, like Staff Sergeants Jacobson, Frasier, and Sanchez who rushed to the rooftop of the building 2nd platoon was securing when the roof exploded to evacuate the wounded. Trust your team leaders, the ones who truly lead from the front, like CPL Rydzewski who exposed himself to enemy fire to pull his wounded squad leader to cover. He later received the Bronze Star for Valor for his actions that day.

Trust your team. Fire supporters, like SGT Mason and SPC Frisk who, despite accurate enemy fire, identified, located, and destroyed enemy mortars that were engaging us. Both awarded Bronze Stars for Valor. Your medics, like Doc Torres, who will do everything humanly possible to save their fellow Soldiers. Your interpreters, like Sam, an 18-year old Iraqi Chaldean who fought alongside us for 12 months before getting the opportunity to come to the United States. A few years later, he became a U.S. Citizen and enlisted in the Army as a translator.

Most important, trust your soldiers. Like CPL Josh Mott, my RTO, who probably had the most difficult job that day, and many other days in Ramadi. Making sure I did not get myself shot. He was my battle buddy for the entire deployment and we still keep in touch today.

Develop trust in your organization to the point where your Soldiers will not hesitate to run into a hail of bullets to come to the aid of their fellow Soldiers.

Resiliency. We talk a lot about resiliency, but what is resiliency and how does it apply in combat? I am a professor in the Department of Systems Engineering, so I cannot pass up an opportunity to talk about systems to some 4000 cadets. So, the lesson for tonight: Systems Engineers have a concept of Engineered Resilient Systems. Engineered Resilient Systems are systems that are specifically designed to continue to operate and deliver value across a range of possible environments and conditions. You can engineer your own resiliency. We build resiliency through challenging, realistic training and schools. Beast Barracks builds resiliency; for some, the academic program builds resiliency; for others, getting punched in the face during boxing class builds resiliency. Ranger School builds resiliency as it pushes you to the breaking point. When you are tired, hungry, wet, cold, and every part of your mind tells you to quit, you learn that your body can and will keep going.

Resiliency on the battlefield means remaining calm in the midst of chaos. Your job as a leader is to clearly and effectively communicate to your subordinates and your higher headquarters. As you enter the profession of arms, know that eventually you will lose a friend, a classmate, a Soldier on the battlefield. How you react when that happens shows your true resiliency. There will be time to morn, time to second guess your decisions, but in the heat of battle you have to focus on the ones you have to bring home. When I got the radio call that Suarez was killed and Nelson was badly injured, I slammed the handmike into my radio so hard that the handmike shattered and I broke the screen of the radio. I do not recommend this. As a platoon leader or company commander, your radio is more important in battle than your rifle. Honestly, I have only fired my rifle three times in 24 months of combat, but used the radio to maneuver platoons, coordinate close air attacks from Apache helicopters, bring in motars and artillery, and had an AC-130 gunship fire well inside danger close. But that moment of anger and grief was it. I put that part of the day away somewhere and dealt with it later. I still had three platoons in contact. It was not just me, my lieutenants, NCOs, and Soldiers had to do the same thing. While we all cared about Suarez and Nelson, we had a job to do. That is resiliency.

Do the hard things. You all have already taken a step in that direction by coming to West Point, I challenge you to keep going. Bad at math, take Calculus. Scared of heights, go to Airborne School. Regardless of your branch, go to Ranger School. Train a little harder, push yourself every day to build resiliency because you will need it on the battlefield.

Win. Your country expects and demands that you win. On the battlefield there is no second place, no points for coming close. For years, I’ve had a photo of Vince Lombardi on my desk with the quote: “Winning is not a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do the right thing once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.”

When we deployed to Ramadi in October 2006, a Marine Corps Intelligence officer wrote a report that the Al Anbar Province was lost to Al Qaeda and could not be won. No one bothered to tell the Manchus that. We fought on the piece of dirt we were given. We were not alone and fought alongside Marines, Navy Seals, the Iraqi Army, and Police to win on our piece of dirt. More important was the bravery of Sheik Sattar and members of the Anbar Awakening. They were done with Al Qaeda and risked their lives to join us. A few weeks earlier, on Thanksgiving Day, a desperate phone call from a local Sheik set in motion the events that resulted in the battle on the 4th of December and we fought hard for 12 more months.

At the end of our 15-month deployment, I was traveling with a squad around the city. Ramadi had changed. It had been over 6-months since we had been in a fire fight, a daily occurrence in our first few months in theater. I asked the Marine LT who was manning one of the outposts which route was best to get across town. He simply stated, go up Easy Street and turn onto Route Michigan, like he was giving directions to a grocery store. Now, six months ago, that route would have included IEDs, improvised rockets, and a complex small arms attack on our element, more than likely resulting in the death of several Soldiers. I gave Staff Sergeant Rood the route and he replied, “Well sir, if we’re going to go, it might as well be on Easy Street.”

As we made the right onto Easy Street, we barely recognized it. What was a street of burnt out buildings full of holes with massive craters in the street, had transformed into a freshly painted, fully operational city street. Shops were open, kids were running around playing soccer, and the Iraqi people were going about their normal day. We just stopped and got out of the HMMWVs. Probably 10 minutes. I do not think anyone said a word. Just stood amazed at the progress. This is what winning looked like in Iraq.

You need two things to win on the battlefield, the skill and the will to win. You gain the skill by preparing, training, focusing on those four fundamentals. The will is something else. It comes from knowing thousands of graduates who form the Long Gray Line stand behind you. It comes from knowing your Soldiers are descendants of the Minutemen who fought at Lexington and Concord, the Buffalo Soldiers who secured the West, and the Rangers who scaled Point Du Hoc. You will go on to graduate in a few months, or a few years, and you will win on whatever battlefield you wind up fighting on, because the Long Gray Line has never, and will never, fail our country.

To the Corps of Cadets, thank you for listening to an Old Grad, it may not have been brief, but I hope you take something away from tonight. To the Association of Graduates, thank you for what you do for the Academy and presenting me with this award. To LTG Williams and the leadership of the Academy, thank you for continuing to make West Point a place that all graduates are proud to be from. To my wife Jamie, thank you for your unwavering support over the last 20 years, many of which were spent apart. To the Soldiers of Dog Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, it was an honor to be your commander, thank you for what you did, not only on December 4th, but every day of that deployment and what you continue to do today. Dog 6 will always be my most cherished call sign. Keep Up The Fire and Beat Navy.