WASHINGTON — In the cold and wet autumn woods of southern Finland, Sgt. Nick L. Piazza, a cavalry scout with the 1st Cavalry Division, and his fellow Soldiers slept in tents and built fires every night during Operation Hammer 2022.
In the mornings, he woke up and hopped into his Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a medium-sized armored vehicle that allows Soldiers to perform reconnaissance and engage enemy forces.
Being the gunner on the team, he checked the M242 25-millimeter cannon and the machine gun before making sure the ammunition was properly linked. Then he checked the vehicle’s communication system.
Once everything was good to go, he and his team would head out to engage their Finnish partners in battle operations, learning and growing with them. It was a demanding two-week exercise and another event in Piazza’s life that pushed him to be stronger.
“[Being a cavalry scout] is a very tough job,” he said. “There are tough days and long days but there is so much reward that comes with it.”
Hard work in the outdoors was nothing new to Piazza. He grew up on a large piece of property in Trenton, Tennessee, where he and his brother spent most of their time hunting, fishing and enjoying nature.
When they weren’t playing, their father, a former Navy explosive ordnance disposal technician, had them outside doing yard work. They would cut down trees, chop firewood, dig pits and even help the neighbors with their yard work. These arduous tasks instilled in them a strong work ethic and a standard for them to strive for.
“It set a tone and it set an example of the man that I wanted to be, the kind of example I wanted to emulate through life,” Piazza said recalling the time spent with his father.
Looking to push himself, he joined the Marine Corps after finishing high school.
He spent the next four years as an expeditionary airfield systems technician, designing airfields and maintaining their systems.
Near the end of his enlistment, he contacted an Army recruiter because he wanted more of an opportunity to travel and see the world. He joined in January 2021 as a cavalry scout.
"They are the eyes and ears in the very tip of the spear, painting that picture for the commander and sending up that information, letting them know what’s going on in the battlefield," he said.
With his prior military experience, he came in as a specialist and was inserted into a unit entering advanced individual training. He was pushed into leadership positions early on.
He navigated leading his junior Soldiers while trying to learn the different terminology of the Army. This was on top of learning his new job. He started relying on those around him by constantly asking questions while he put in extra time studying.
“It’s not something you master during [initial training],” he said. “That just opens your eyes to what you’ll be learning on the job.”
He soaked up as much knowledge as he could and got more hands-on experience when he got to the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Then, last fall, he went on a rotation with the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team where they trained in the woods of Finland during Operation Hammer 2022.
The two-week exercise allowed more than 4,000 combined Finnish and U.S. service members to train together in the cold and wet environment of Niinisalo, Finland.
“Being a part of that was the most memorable exercise of my military career,” he said. “Getting to fight with [the Finish military], fight against them, and see their tactics … it was definitely eye-opening and a very fun experience.”
The good times also came with hard work, something Piazza has relished since an early age, and his military career has continued to strengthen.
The Army has given me structure, organization and helped me build an even stronger work ethic, he said. It’s also given me leadership skills.
Those skills are being put to the test after Piazza was promoted to sergeant this summer. Now, he gets to guide his Soldiers to be better and eventually take his job.
“It’s very rewarding whenever you see your guys branch out and start to be free thinkers,” he said. “When I see them start to push past their rank and their assignment, it makes me really proud as a leader.”
When he’s not leading his Soldiers, Piazza is in his Bradley Fighting Vehicle being a cavalry scout gunner.
“It’s an extremely rewarding job, and I have no regrets with the path I’ve chosen,” he explained. “I absolutely love being a scout. Any time I get in my Brad and go somewhere, I usually have a smile on my face.”
Piazza will tart college soon while pursuing a degree in psychology. In the future, he wants to become a therapist and help Soldiers with their mental health issues.