By Kathy Eastwood, U.S. Military Academy Public AffairsSeptember 19, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 20, 2012) -- The Corps of Cadets and command staff attended the 7th annual Association of Graduates presentation of the Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms to Capt. Stephen Tangen, Class of 2008, at Washington Hall Sept. 12.
U.S. Military Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr. introduced Tangen, a Silver Star recipient, telling cadets to "listen to the captain, his remarks will be a guide for you."
"Tangen, after two short years after graduation, was a first lieutenant conducting a combat mission while serving as a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan in 2010," Huntoon said. "You have a rare opportunity to hear from a leader who did all the right things----value is supported by the men the Soldiers lead."
A passage from the award synopsis states that Tangen placed himself in the line of Taliban fire multiple times, as he maneuvered his platoon to spearhead an assault. With no regard for his personal safety, he fully and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire. It also cites his personal courage, tactical expertise and professional competence were directly responsible for his platoon's overall success and survival.
Addressing the Corps of Cadets in attendance, Tangen spoke about two individuals he led in combat who best exemplified what it means to be a Soldier in the U.S. Army--Spc. Christopher Shaffer (now Sergeant) and Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw.
"For me, the valor of these great Americans illustrates the character of our nation's Soldiers," Tangen said. "You will lead many like them in the years ahead. When you do, draw strength from them. But also know that you are prepared. Together, you and your soldiers will persevere. You will overcome adversity. And, together, you will do what might seem impossible."
He also told a story about when he took the lead of a rifle platoon from another West Point graduate, 1st Lt. Nick Eslinger, from the Class of 2007--who had also received the Nininger Award in 2009. The noncommissioned officers told their new platoon leader he had big shoes to fill.
"In fact, during the 12 months of training leading up to our deployment, my battle-hardened Soldiers, who had served with Nick, took special delight in needling me, saying 'No pressure, PL' or 'Whatcha gonna do now, PL?' One of my purposes in telling you this story is to suggest that you all have some choice in creating your future," Tangen said. "However, there will be surprises and there will be turns in the path that will be beyond your control. I have learned that how you respond to those turns -- how you keep your focus on accomplishing the mission while taking care of your Soldiers -- is a good measure of your character, shaped here at West Point."
The Nininger award is named in recognition of the heroic actions of 2nd Lt. Alexander R. Nininger, Class of 1941, and is presented to a West Point graduate who exemplifies heroic action in battle and heroically leads Soldiers. Also in attendance was the first recipient of the Nininger Award, Maj. Ryan Worthan, a Class of 1997 graduate and Systems Engineering instructor, who received the award in 2006.