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LTC Matthew R. Myer '01

2018 NININGER AWARD Recipient Speech

I was on a commercial flight recently and sat down next to an older gentleman as we were getting ready to take off. The man was well dressed, with a pressed shirt and conservative tie, and had a few 3 ring binders tucked into the seat in front of him. I asked him about his line of work, and He said, “Well, I’m a CPA, and I train other CPAs on construction accounting and the proper way to finance, contract, and track a construction budget.”

I stated politely that that was probably something people take for granted. He asked me “What do you do?”.

I replied, “I lead 700 of the finest paratroopers you could ever meet, to carry out our Nation’s goals by military means, and that usually begins by jumping out of an airplane into largely unknown circumstances into a foreign country.”

He thanked me for my service and moved a couple of seats up to have more room for his binders.

Now I have nothing against his line of work, but I tell that story to illustrate how lucky and honored I am to serve this great nation, with many great soldiers. And to be here with you tonight.

So, General and Mrs. Williams, and Mr. and Mrs. Browne, distinguished guests, and members of the Corps of Cadets, thank you for this opportunity to address you all tonight and honor – The CHOSEN FEW – which is the nickname for C Company of 2nd of the 503rd IN (ABN) – THE ROCK, part of the storied 173rd Airborne Brigade.

I want to thank all members of the Chosen Few. First, with us tonight is Ryan Pitts -- Medal of Honor recipient for his actions in combat. Thanks Ryan, we are honored with your attendance. Kyle White – another Medal of Honor recipient from Chosen Company could not be here, though he wanted to be. In addition to incredible soldiers like Ryan and Kyle, my only hope of success as a commander was surrounding myself with incredible non-commissioned officers. Here tonight, the former Chosen Company 1SG soon to be CSM of US Army Japan, and a dear friend, CSM Scott Beeson and CSM Shane Stockard, former PSG to CPT Matt Ferrara, class of ’05, and current CSM for 2-504th IN (ABN). Not here are CSM Scott Brzak, CSM of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and SGM Sean Horval, former BDE CSM in 25th ID now serving at the SGM Academy. These men along with many others, are what I call my Chosen Family and I value our relationship over anything I could ever have or will ever achieve. Thanks fellas for being here.

To my wife Laura and kids, Drew, Hannah and Faith. You are everything a husband and Dad could ever hope for, and the best part of my day. Your sacrifice for our country is noble and honorable and it humbles me every day.

To my Dad, COL Steve Myer Class of ’72, and my grandfather, now deceased, LTG Charles Myer, Class of ’46. Both of you taught me the importance of working hard for others. Thank you for always living that advice.

To my mom, Carleene Myer. Thanks for teaching me to have fun while doing that hard work.

For everyone here to understand the honor and humility I feel in accepting this award, I’d like to illustrate for you the life of the paratrooper -- the young warrior who descends from the sky, to fight to protect the noble ideas that established our country and to be an example of freedom and character.

A young paratrooper falls back on his ruck sack, exhausted. His legs ache and his back is tired, his uniform is soaked through with sweat. The movement up to the base isn’t far, but it is long, and the elevated and rugged terrain is punishing. But he doesn’t notice the punishing terrain, because he is focused on trying to see the enemy. The enemy that he can feel moving around the mountains watching and waiting. He can feel the blisters forming under his already well calloused feet and the stories of combat that some of the more seasoned guys have told him still echoes in his memories. Self-doubt sometimes creeps into his mind. What will he do when the bullets start to fly? How will he feel? What will he do when he faces his fears, and everything instinctual in his body tells him to run and hide? Can he overcome that fear, and what will help him do so?

The soldier in this story, is like any soldier that has faced combat. Much like the paratroopers that made up The Chosen Few in 2006-2008. Young, impressionable, from various backgrounds and all wanting to be part of something greater than themselves.

It is this group that was highly disciplined --- highly trained, and well led by some of the men here at the head table, but also by some that are no longer with us.

In August of 2007, just 90 days after we deployed from Italy, shots rang out on an early morning deep in the Waigul Valley of Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. Up on a remote mountainside above the village of Aranas, a well-rehearsed and ready platoon sprang into action. Young paratroopers moved to aid one another with ammunition, treating wounds, calling out enemy locations, throwing grenades, and evacuating casualties. The enemy continued the attack, determined to overrun our outpost and inflict casualties, and as the enemy crossed through one section of the wire, collapsed one security post, and overtook another, it seemed that they were well on their way to accomplish their mission. But, time and time again, the Chosen Few ran toward the danger to aid their fellow man, making the choice of courage over self-preservation; to embrace fear and danger instead of run from it.

At the center of the chaos was a young platoon leader who calmly surveyed the battlefield. He was just over 2 years from graduating West Point in 2005 and he stared combat square in the face. 1LT Matt Ferrara quickly understood that the numerically superior force that was descending upon his base had intended to do more than just fire a few shots at his men. Fighting would continue for the next 2-3 hours, as the enemy moved inside the base fighting at closer range than the US Army had seen in decades. LT Ferrara unphased by the chaos before him, and despite sporadic communications, quickly assessed that a bold maneuver would be the best decision to end the fight. And as A-10s checked in overhead and Matt directed them onto the target, two gun runs at danger close range would prove deadly to the enemy and preserve every man’s life in his platoon. For this action he was awarded the Silver Star. Matt died just 79 days later in a tragic ambush, but I am confident that if he had survived he would be the recipient of the Nininger Award. So Matt, this award is for you.

And we are honored tonight to have Matt’s parents here, Mario and Linda Ferrara, as well as his brother Andy, class of 2010. To all of you, thank you so much for being part of the Chosen family. Please give them a round of applause.

Matt Ferrara’s story is a compelling display of courage under fire, but in all the chaos what did he see? What did he see in the eyes of his soldiers? What makes up that moment when a leader looks into the eyes of his platoon, and asks them to follow her/him into danger? That moment where men and women choose the likelihood of death or injury over safety and security, courage over cowardice.

There is a lot packed into that moment. Soldiers weigh the risks and sense the extreme danger yet they will themselves to go forward. It is the choice they make in that moment as they look into the eyes of a leader and say, “I’m ready to go”

In that moment there is a slight pause when a soldier thinks… “I really don’t like this...when do we SP?”…That short moment, that transition from recognizing the danger, yet still willing to conduct the mission. Combat soldiers throughout our history have said:
“This mission is gonna be dangerous…what time do we step off?”
“I could get injured or killed…I’m gonna bring some extra ammo”
“They said there will be a lot of IEDs…let me double check my gear before we leave”
“We got hit there last time…I’m gonna bring extra grenades”.

Soldiers face that moment routinely, over and over again, and we as leaders often take it for granted. We dismiss it as something ordinary, just men and women preparing for a mission. But if you think about it a little deeper, it is anything but ordinary. That moment is the most precious thing that you can ever receive as a leader. When soldiers choose danger over preservation, they are telling a leader “Sir or Ma’am, I’m not so sure about this…but I’ll follow you into it”. Their choice to follow is something that we don’t ever deserve. Nobody ever deserves something that precious and valuable. Yet as leaders we get it, over and over again.

Matt Ferrara got it from SGT Jeff Mersman, SPC Joe Lancour, CPL Sean Langevin, SGT Phillip Bocks of the USMC, and SPC Lester Roque, his medic, all men that died following him. SFC Matt Kahler made that choice in front of his men before he was killed. “This is dangerous…let me go ahead”

1LT Jon Brostrom got that gift from Jason Hovater as they bound up to OP Topside in Wanat, Afghanistan. SGT Israel Garcia showed that moment as he moved toward the sounds of guns and cries for support. Matt Phillips, Pruitt Rainey, Jason Bogar, Jonathan Ayers, Gunnar Zwilling and Sergio Abad, I’ve seen it in their eyes. That willingness to follow into the dangerous and unknown.

But what is it? What makes up that intangible gift of a moment, when soldiers choose to follow? As I have reflected over the years, that moment is Duty, it is Honor, and it is Country. For if you thought that was a motto that builds officers, if you thought that they were principles we follow to shape future leaders, it is so much more than that. In that moment known only in combat, soldiers show us the importance of doing what we say we are going to do: our Duty. They show us how to Honor those before us, those that shaped us, those that raised us, those that have fallen in battle. It is in that moment, that as a guardian of Freedom, our soldiers show us how great our Country really is, so great that they are willing to repeatedly face death to protect its ideals.

If you read the full text of MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” Speech in his address to the Corps in 1962, beyond the lines you are required to memorize in Cadet knowledge, you will see that MacArthur learned a deeper meaning of this motto from the faces of his soldiers over his many years of service. He describes them as the “noblest of figures.” How did he conclude this? From the faces of his men that said they would go time and time again. It is what LT Nininger saw as he volunteered for combat in the Philippines and to lead men into danger. Due to the horrors of combat, it is the worst and the most wonderful thing you could ever experience.

So, I challenge each of you to earn that moment just like Matt Ferrara, MacArthur, and Nininger. Never rest, never waiver, never say “good enough.” Reach deep in your preparation for those that will follow you. Work hard every day to be the leader that earns the honor of seeing in the eyes of a soldier a willingness to follow you into the worst situations, so you can see the determination of Duty in their eyes, their example of Honor toward their fellow man, and their love of Country and everything it stands for. Be what they deserve and receive the gift you don’t deserve.

I want to close with a brief story about a leader that taught me about earning “the moment”, and that working as a leader for your soldiers never stops. While you honor the Chosen Few with this award, like many awards, it represents my darkest day. On July 13, 2008, as the dust settled in Wanat, Afghanistan, and the company consolidated and reorganized over several hours, I was exhausted in all ways, covered in dirt and a burnt uniform, rocked by the losses of watching men die, and others get injured. Looking into the faces of my men to give them hope and motivation. I was out of fumes and my battery was dead.

My Commander showed up, and we walked and talked. As we moved off by ourselves, my deep frustration caused tears to turn my dusted face to mud. As the loss of hope creeped into my mind, his arm extended at high velocity and grabbed my shoulder to shake me. As he popped me back to reality, He said he was proud of me and my men, he said “You can do this… I believe in you.” He did what good leaders do in extreme adversity, pick up their soldiers, dust them off, and move forward. As many of you know, that man is COL Bill Ostlund head of Military Instruction here at West Point. What he did for me that day, he has done for many every day since then. Thank you Sir, for sharing the burdens of that dark day, and for teaching me how to be a leader that cares for his soldiers in a way that earns that moment where they want to follow you into the toughest combat.

God Bless everyone of you, and continue to be what your soldiers deserve in a leader.

Thank You