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MAJ John A. Meyer '05

2020 Nininger Award Recipient

West Point Graduate Major John A. Meyer, Class of 2005

Major John A. Meyer ʼ05, the 2020 recipient of the Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms, always knew service would be an important part of his life when he began his 47-month journey at the U.S. Military Academy during the summer of 2001. But like the current Corps of Cadets dealing with the uncertainty and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Meyer’s West Point class would soon face circumstances they did not expect.

A few weeks after arriving at West Point, the world turned upside down, and Meyer’s graduating class of 2005 would become known as “The Class of 9/11.” The events of that day and the War on Terrorism would shape their four years of training and education.

“West Point is not combat; however, West Point is a trial,” Meyer said. “And at West Point, you go through ups and downs and you start to build that resiliency and that grit.”

That “resilience and grit” would become critically important when Meyer and the rest of his platoon faced the events of July 27, 2007.

On that day, Meyer was a platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, B Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry (Airborne) deployed to Camp Keating, the furthest American outpost in northeastern Afghanistan along the Kunar River Valley. Their mission was to secure the ground route from FOB Naray—the location of the squadron headquarters—all the way north to Camp Keating by establishing short-term observation posts or OPs and defensive positions along the route.

Upon departing the village that morning, Meyer’s lead squad conducted reconnaissance up the mountain to locate a suitable overwatch position for the troop. The attached Afghan Army soldiers crossed the river and, unbeknownst to either side, ran into enemy fighters. Immediately both sides engaged one another with small arms fire and RPGs. The valley began to wake up, with a sizable enemy force prepositioned in caves and ambush locations on both sides of the river.

“To this day I fully believe that neither side was aware of anyone’s presence,” Meyer said. “The enemy was completely caught off guard. This was an enemy force of estimated over 150 enemy fighters, we were at just over 60 on the ground.”

The action on the ground quickly evolved into a serious situation, with a soldier from first platoon shot in the neck and Meyer’s mortarman shot while providing effective fire on the enemy. His platoon was now split, with the lead squad 100 meters up the mountain and the remainder of the platoon along with Troop headquarters in hasty defensive positions at the base of the mountain. A MEDEVAC aircraft was en route for the 1st platoon soldier, and Meyer’s platoon had already sustained several casualties due to gunshot wounds.

The fight continued to intensify, and Troop headquarters was struck by an RPG round, leaving Troop Commander MAJ Thomas Bostick killed and everyone in the headquarters wounded, including the fire support officer, LT Kenny Johnson ʼ06. At this point, Meyer said they committed their third platoon, which was the quick reaction force, so all three platoons were now involved in the fight. Squad leader SSG Ryan Fritsche was shot and killed and there were well over 10-12 wounded, some of them in critical condition. Decisions had to be made whether to try and hold there or try to move back to somewhere where they could sustain the fight. Talking to all of the other lieutenants on the ground and NCOs, they made the decision to fight their way back out so they could fly out all of the critically wounded casualties and reestablish high ground.

“I mean we were caught,” Meyer said. “We had enemy behind us and in front of us. And so we moved down by the trucks. We put all of our wounded in the trucks. We ran beside the vehicles and we eventually fought our way out.”

Many more were shot and wounded by RPG shrapnel, but they were able to fly out all of the wounded and establish themselves in a more defensible position. Meyer received the Silver Star for his actions on that day.

In recounting the events of that day to the Corps of Cadets gathered in the mess hall for the Nininger Award dinner on October 22, Meyer attributed their success to the selfless leadership, humility, and passion displayed by those who fought alongside him. They include fallen Troop Commander MAJ Bostick, E5 SGTs Henley and Wilson—who stepped into squad leader positions because of wounded—and PFC Barba, who was shot in the jaw but continued to engage the enemy and lead by example.

“It was a very difficult fight out of the ambush area, but I will tell you that the courage and the bravery displayed by the soldiers and the NCOs, by LT David Roller ʼ05, LT Kenny Johnson ʼ06, LT Alex Neusom, my NCOs and soldiers was just incredible. No one argued. Everyone stayed focused. Everyone stayed part of this overall team, and this was after we had lost our troop commander, who was like a hero to all of us.”

Meyer told the Corps that humility is arguably the greatest leadership trait, to be a sponge, and to learn each day from the finest non-commissioned officers in the world.

“But in the end, know you are in charge,” Meyer said. “When bullets start flying, your soldiers will look to you. They won’t look for perfection or the smartest military plan, they will look for courage and leadership from the officer standing shoulder to shoulder with them. When in charge, take charge.”

In bestowing him with the 2020 Nininger Award, the West Point Association of Graduates recognizes Major John A. Meyer for his personal bravery and leadership and regards him 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 brings 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. ʼ41, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II.