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2017 NININGER AWARD Recipient Story

CPT Nick Dockery '11, Todd Browne '85, LTG Caslen '75

Captain Nick Dockery ’11 was presented with the 2017 Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms during a ceremony in the Cadet Mess Hall on September 28, 2017. As noted by Todd Browne ’85, President and CEO of the West Point of Graduates (WPAOG), in his remarks introducing the recipient, the Nininger Award is WPAOG’s third major award (along with the Thayer and Distinguished Graduate awards), “reflecting heroism, courage, and character while serving in the Profession of Arms.” Established in 2006, the Nininger Award was endowed by E. Douglas Kenna ’45 and his wife, Jean, and is named for Second Lieutenant Alexander R. Nininger ’41, who fought the enemy to his death during the Battle of Bataan in January 1942 and posthumously received World War II’s first Medal of Honor. [See Photos]

On October 2, 2012, then Second Lieutenant Dockery was serving as platoon leader in Company C, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry (4th Brigade Combat Team), 4th Infantry Division as part of Task Force War Eagle in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, leading eight U.S. troops and a handful of Afghan soldiers and police forces. During a patrol to secure the Tagab District Center, a well-armed Taliban force ambushed Dockery’s unit. “Over the course of four hours, Nick’s courage, his selflessness, and aggressive leadership while under enemy fire saved the lives of two soldiers and prevented the capture of a third,” Superintendent Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen Jr. ’75 told the Corps of Cadets assembled for the ceremony. One of the Soldiers whose life Dockery saved by tackling him and then shielding him from a grenade blast was the Nininger recipient’s squad leader, Staff Sergeant Eric Mitchell (now Retired), who attended the ceremony as Dockery’s guest and was recognized during his acceptance speech.

“Awards like this are never earned by one person; they are earned by a team.” Dockery told cadets. “Every time I heard the crack of a bullet whizzing past my head, I knew Eric was there at my side ready to return fire so that I could focus on my job.” Using his relationship with Mitchell as an example, Dockery presented the Corps with an important lesson regarding their immediate future responsibilities. “If there is one theme that echoes in my soul that every lieutenant needs to know, it’s the importance of building a strong team, especially with your NCOs,” Dockery said. “West Point will make you an officer, but your NCOs will make you a platoon leader.”

Beyond telling cadets to “build relationships” now, Dockery also advised them to trust in the system that West Point has in place. “All of your experiences here are part of a unique journey that will make you, like it did for me on October 2, 2012, capable of flipping your M4 carbine rifle to three-round burst, charging down an alleyway alone under enemy fire, killing the enemy, and preventing them from capturing your wounded team leader.”

His lessons in his acceptance speech were taken to heart by cadets. “Having speakers like Captain Dockery come to West Point is definitely inspirational to me and the rest of the Corps,” said Cadet Ethan Porter ’20 after the event. “He reinforced that every cadet at West Point has the potential to face adversity during those critical occasions that test their worth.”

Dockery recently attended the Special Qualification Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, the Special Operations Center of Excellence at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His awards and decorations include the Silver Star Medal, the Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Meritorious Unit Commendation with oak leaf cluster, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Basic Parachutist Badge, the Air Assault Badge, and the Ranger Tab.