By Brandon O'Connor
Pointer View Assistant EditorStanding at the podium with a medal around his neck, the Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms looked like an individual award for Lt. Col. Matthew Myer, U.S. Military Academy Class of 2001. But during his speech, Myer made it abundantly clear that it couldn't be further from the truth.A silver bracelet he wears on his wrist bears the names of 17 comrades who were killed in action during his tour in Afghanistan, including 16 fellow Army Soldiers. And joining him at the ceremony Sept. 27 at the Cadet Mess Hall were the parents and brother of his fellow U.S. Military Academy grad 1st Lt. Matt Ferrara, USMA Class of 2005, whose name is one of those upon the bracelet after he was killed Nov. 9, 2007."In August of 2007, just 90 days after we deployed from Italy, shots rang out in the early morning deep in the Waygal Valley of Nuristan Province," Myer said. "At the center of chaos was a young platoon leader who calmly surveilled the battlefield. He was only two years from graduating West Point in 2005 and he stared combat square in the face. 1st Lt. Matt Ferrara quickly understood that the numerically superior force that was descending upon his base intended to do more than just fire a few shots."Myer told the story of how Ferrara directed the A-10s flying overhead while fighting to secure his platoon's location and saved the life of every Soldier under his command. For his actions that day, Ferrara earned the Silver Star, but only 79 days later he was killed in another ambush.Speaking to the Corps of Cadets and the leadership of West Point, Myer used Ferrara's story to show just what it takes to be a leader and ask the Soldiers under your command to trust you with their lives and run toward danger instead of away from it."Matt Ferrara's story is a compelling display of courage under fire, but in all the chaos, I ask you 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 asked them to follow her or him into danger?" Myer said. "That moment is the most precious thing you could ever receive as a leader. When Soldiers choose danger over preservation they are telling a leader, 'Sir or Ma'am, I am not so sure about this, but I will follow you into it.' Their choice to follow is something we don't ever deserve. No one ever deserves something that precious and valuable. As leaders, we get it over and over again."
During his 15-month deployment in Afghanistan from 2007-08, Myer commanded Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. The Soldiers under his command received 87 valor awards including two Medals of Honor and 13 Silver Stars, one of which was received by Myer himself.Myer received his Silver Star and by extension the Nininger Award, which is given annually to a West Point graduate in recognition of his or her bravery and heroic action in battle, for his actions July 13, 2008 during the Battle of Wanat.Under heavy fire from more than 200 enemy combatants, Myer led the defense of his company's position calling in air assaults and medevacs while returning fire and placing himself directly in harm's way to secure the Observation Post after heavy casualties left it vulnerable. Nine members of Chosen Company were killed and 16 others were seriously injured during the more than four-hour fight, but through the valor of Myer and his fellow Soldiers, they were able to defeat the attacking enemy and secure their position."What makes up that intangible gift of a moment when Soldiers choose to follow?" Myer asked. "As I reflected over the years, that moment is duty, it is honor and it is country. If you thought that was a motto that builds leaders, it is so much more than that. In the moment known only in combat, Soldiers show us the importance of doing what we said we were 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 is. So great, that they are willing to repeatedly face death to protect its ideals."A 2001 graduate of West Point, Myer and his classmates' career have been unmeasurably shaped by the events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, only a few months after their graduation. When they left the academy, the possible deployments for the class were to Bosnia, Myer said, but that quickly changed following the attacks as they prepared to deploy to Afghanistan and then Iraq."It changed a lot of things and we were immediately thrust into several combat deployments, which really kind of shaped my class into the leaders that they are collectively today," Myer said. "It thrust us into a lot of unknown situations and the value of those relationships and the ability to use your relationships and work hard is what helped push us through all that diversity."Myer is a third generation West Point graduate and is currently stationed in Anchorage, Alaska as the commander of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry (Airborne) Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.Myer is the third member of his class to receive the Nininger Award, which has been given out annually since 2006 by the West Point Association of Graduates, through an endowment created by Doug Kenna, USMA Class of 1945, and his wife, Jean.The award is named for Class of 1941 graduate Alexander R. Nininger who was the first Soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of valor during World War II."I think valor occurs when somebody is committed to the person to their left and their right," Myer said. "They are put in an adverse situation where what they have to do to survive is motivated by their desire to help the people around them. That desire comes from a tight bonded relationship that they have that is built through training and experience in combat."After speaking about what it takes for Soldiers to choose to follow their commander into battle, Myer challenged the 4,400 cadets currently at West Point to follow in the footsteps of their fellow members of the Long Gray Line and be a commander worth being followed."I challenge each one of the cadets in this great hall to earn that moment just like Matt Ferrara, McArthur and Nininger," he said. "Never rest, never waiver, never say good enough. Reach deep into your preparation for those who will follow you. Work hard every day to be a leader who earns the honor of seeing in the eyes of a Solider the willingness to follow you into the worst situations."