Dockery receives Nininger Award: Heroic actions in battle lead to Nininger Award

Story and photos by Michelle Eberhart Assistant Editor

October 5th, 2017 | In Focus, News, News and Features
 Capt. Nicholas “Nick” Dockery, U.S. Military Academy Class of 2011, received the West Point Association of Graduates’ 2017 Alexander Nininger Award for Valor at Arms Sept. 28 at Washington Hall. The Nininger Award is named in recognition of the heroic actions of 2nd Lt. Alexander R. Nininger, USMA Class of 1941, who was posthumously awarded the first Medal of Honor in World War II for his heroic actions near Abucay, Bataan on Jan. 12, 1942. The award is given to an exemplar of heroic action in battle. In 2012, Dockery deployed as an infantry rifle platoon leader in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Light), 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo., to Kunar Province, Afghanistan. As a member of Task Force Lethal Warrior, Dockery trained and worked with Afghan National Security Forces in the Dewegal Valley and Chowkay District. In September 2012, Dockery’s unit was reassigned to the Tagab District in Kapisa Province to work under Task Force War Eagle alongside the French military. In October, Dockery was wounded in a direct fire engagement from hand grenades and rocket propelled grenades. Dockery stayed in country and finished the deployment as a platoon leader. Photo by Michelle Eberhart/PV
 Capt. Nicholas “Nick” Dockery, U.S. Military Academy Class of 2011, received the West Point Association of Graduates’ 2017 Alexander Nininger Award for Valor at Arms Sept. 28 at Washington Hall. He also received a painting from Cadet First Captain Simone Askew at the conclusion of the Nininger Award ceremony.
 The Alexander R. Nininger Award is funded by a generous endowment from E. Doug Kenna, U.S. Military Academy Class of 1945 and his wife, Jean.

U.S. Military Academy at West Point Class of 2011 graduate Capt. Nicholas Dockery was presented The Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms, Sept. 28 at Washington Hall.

Each year, the West Point Association of Graduates presents the Nininger Award to a recent graduate on active duty who has shown tremendous heroic action in battle.

 The Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms

The award is named after USMA Class of 1941 graduate Alexander R. Nininger who, after commissioning, was sent to the Philippines attached to the 57th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts. During the first month of the Japanese invasion, Nininger voluntarily joined another company because his unit was not yet engaged in combat. He was posthumously awarded the first Medal of Honor in World War II for his actions near Abucay, Bataan on Jan. 12, 1942.

This is the 12th year that AOG has presented this award, and it is funded by an endowment from Class of 1945 graduate E. Doug Kenna and his wife, Jean.

About the recipient

In 2012, then 2nd Lt. Dockery deployed as an infantry rifle platoon leader in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (light), 4th Infantry Division, deployed to Kunar Province, Afghanistan. On Oct. 2, 2012, Dockery was wounded in a direct fire engagement from hand and rocket propelled grenades. Dockery stayed in the country and finished the deployment as a platoon leader. He received a Silver Star in 2016 for his actions that day.

His story

After graduating from West Point and finishing Infantry Basic Officer Leader’s Course and Ranger School, 2nd Lt. Dockery reported to Fort Carson, Colorado as his first official duty station.

“I packed my bags, went to Fort Carson, I touched down, inprocessed, they said ‘Welcome. In three weeks, you’re going to Afghanistan,’” he said.

Dockery then shipped out to Afghanistan, meeting his platoon which was already three months into its deployment.

By Oct. 2, 2012, Dockery had been a platoon leader for four months and seen significant firefights. The five-hour time span for which Dockery received the Silver Star was a culmination of what he had learned leading up to that day.

“For me, it was a lot of survival at West Point,” Dockery explained, noting that his time at the Academy was far from easy. “I accepted that I was going to have to work a little bit harder, sometimes a lot harder, than somebody else to get there.”

Fast forward to Dockery’s first day as a platoon leader, and coincidentally, his first firefight.

“I thought two things: one, don’t get shot; and two, don’t let the boys see you scared on your first fight,” he recalled during his Nininger Award acceptance speech, reminiscing about his first day on the job.

Regardless of how he was feeling, Dockery soon learned that his platoon needed somebody who would be cool under pressure.

“They needed someone to listen to their reporting, process information, describe to the command team what was occurring on the ground, and control the men and firepower in the fight,” he continued during his speech. “They needed that leadership at that moment and they deserved that every day.”

All of Dockery’s trials and tribulations led up to the day he earned his Silver Star.

“All of your experiences (at West Point) are part of a unique journey that will make you,” Dockery said to a crowd of cadets during the Nininger reception. “Like it did for me on Oct. 2, 2012, capable of flipping your M4 carbine rifle to three round burst, charging down an alleyway alone under enemy fire, which I don’t recommend, killing the enemy, and preventing them from capturing your wounded team leader. Your mettle is tested here on West Point’s fields of friendly strife long before your boots hit the ground in combat.”

That is, in short, how Dockery received the Silver Star.

Within five hours of firefight, Dockery did a lot. After his squad leader was shot in the arm with severe wounds, Dockery and three others were engaged in a standoff in an alleyway with a machine gunner. He saved his team leader from enemy attack, and called for fire from a rooftop, all while being battle fatigued and wounded.

Dockery credits his award to his platoon due to the teamwork that occurred that day.

“One person wears it, but not one person solely earns it,” he said of the Silver Star. “Nobody is out fighting a fight only by themselves, it really is a team effort.

“I look back and I’m so humbled to receive the award because I remember everything that these guys are doing, I can’t believe that they were fighting with me,” Dockery said. “It’s just unquestioned, I say go to the corner and shoot, and they’re there, they’re trained, they know what to do.”

The trust that Dockery had in his platoon, he said, is crucial for success—a point he made clear when he addressed the cadets.

“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,” he said boldly. “If I got everything else wrong as a platoon leader, I am certain I got one thing right: building solid relationships that would not only withstand combat, but forged in battle, would grow stronger.”

As Dockery concluded his Nininger Award speech he ended with a final piece of advice:

“Make your experience here more than just ‘trying to survive.’ Build relationships with your classmates now, just as you will with your NCOs and Soldiers in the future,” he said. “Trust in the system here. West Point will make you an officer, and your NCOs will make you a platoon leader.”