Two cadet athletes exemplify warrior ethos, earn Lt. Gen. Hal Moore Warrior Athlete of Excellence Award

By Eric S. Bartelt PV Managing Editor - November 14, 2023
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In embodying mental toughness, perseverance, a winning spirit and humility, “Hal” Moore not only epitomized these four virtues during his dedicated service to the nation but also mirrored the core tenets of the warrior ethos. This is evident in the matriculation of the Department of Physical Education’s combatives curriculum and the competitive sports programs, where these qualities form the bedrock principles guiding cadets through their journey at West Point.

DPE celebrated Moore and his legacy of honorable and distinguished service to the Army as it hosted the 12th annual Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” G. Moore Warrior Athlete of Excellence Award ceremony Nov. 9 in the Haig Room at Jefferson Hall.

The award recognizes one male and one female first-class cadet, who best exemplify the qualities of Moore and the tenets of the warrior ethos on both the athletic playing fields and in DPE’s boxing and combatives programs.

This year’s recipients of the award were U.S. Military Academy Class of 2024 Cadets Tanner Craig and Megan Nkamwa. Craig competes on the mat with the Army West Point Wrestling team and Nkamwa participates in the ring with the Army West Point Boxing team.

Graduating from West Point in 1945, Moore embarked on a distinguished military career. As an Infantry officer, he commanded units at every level and engaged in combat on multiple occasions. However, his most notable command unfolded as the battalion commander for 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment.

In November 1965, Moore and his battalion of 450 Soldiers fought and won the first major battle of the Vietnam War against more than 2,000 North Vietnamese Regulars in the Battle of la Drang Valley. The battle was depicted in the movie “We Were Soldiers” starring Mel Gibson, which was based on the book, “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” by Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway. 

Moore retired from the Army in 1977 after 32 years of service while earning two Combat Infantry Badges, the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. In 2003, he was selected by the West Point Association of Graduates as a distinguished graduate.

The award ceremony commenced with remarks from Col. Nicholas Gist, DPE director, who provided intricate details about Moore’s leadership during the battle in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. 

“Moore led the Soldiers … against a North Vietnamese force that significantly outnumbered the Americans and held key terrain in prepared defensive positions,” Gist said. “In austere conditions, on unknown ground, and with limited intelligence, all while employing new air mobility tactics, Hal Moore led by personal example by communicating clear intent, demonstrating the warrior ethos in his personal presence, and fighting to win. 

“For those who served with him, I am certain they can share countless stories of his toughness, perseverance, winning spirit and humility,” Gist added. “They will also remember how he trained them – tough and realistic; how he cared for them – with respect and dignity; and how he led them – honorably and loyally. An incredible leader whose humble qualities we are fortunate to highlight again today, almost 58 years since he prepared to take those Soldiers into combat.”

Unfortunately, the Moore Family could not attend this year’s award ceremony, a departure from their annual presence. Nonetheless, Gist emphasized that their patriarch’s legacy is now forever esteemed by the U.S. Army in Georgia, evident in the naming of Fort Moore, formerly known as Fort Benning. 

 “He was a leader who had a positive reputation who can walk the talk as he shared in the hardships and dangers of his subordinates to show the task at hand was worthy,” Gist said. “He defined commanding presence in his bearing, fitness, confidence and resilience.”

After speaking about Moore, Gist recognized the cadet finalists and recipients. Class of 2024 Cadets Fahad Abdulrazzaq and Elizabeth Caldwell were the cadet finalists who finished behind Craig and Nkamwa.

As Gist highlighted Nkamwa and Craig, he first spoke about how Nkamwa was asked what was one of her biggest challenges at West Point? She pointed to PE117, Military Movement, and described how she did not have natural physical attributes for some elements of the course.

“But she often asked herself, ‘what if your platoon was watching you today?” Gist said. “Her approach speaks to a tough, scrappy attitude toward things that challenge her. She applies her experience as a tutor for cadets in various physical education courses and is a proponent of being physically and mentally tough.

“If you have spent any time around Megan, her enthusiasm and positivity are infectious,” Gist said. “She is vocal about keeping a positive attitude even while literally in the fight.”

Gist mentioned that Nkamwa’s Company H-3 Tactical Officer, Capt. Jason Pearson, said that “she consistently seeks feedback to leverage every opportunity to grow as a person and a leader.” He also stated that her boxing coach, Gerald Hart, describes “her kindness, compassion and empathy as the greatest he has seen in a cadet boxer.”

Gist then talked about Craig as a stellar performer in the West Point Physical Program. He spoke about Craig’s challenges to overcome injury and manage his weight while trying to wrestle at the Division I level, and Craig’s “self-proclaimed” mediocre performance in academics.

“To overcome these challenges, he called on grit and tenacity to persevere and even told our selection committee that we should make classes harder,” Gist said.

Gist acknowledged that Craig’s Army West Point Wrestling Head Coach, Kevin Ward, said, “Tanner epitomizes the warrior-athlete.” 

“When we send Tanner onto the mat to represent Army, we know without a doubt that he will be a ferocious competitor who will inspire his teammates and strike fear in the hearts of our competition,” Gist said. “It has been my privilege to observe Tanner for the last four years. And see him as a shining example of the tenets of the warrior ethos.” 

Next, Gist conveyed sentiments from Moore’s son, retired Col. David Moore, who began his message by emphasizing that West Point and the cadet experience were foundational to his father as a leader. 

“West Point created in him the leadership character and attributes that guided his professional and personal life,” Gist said through David’s words. “Years after his and my mother’s passing, their character endures and remains a timeless example for us all to draw upon and mold aspects of our lives.”

David generously shared his father’s books, some of which were personally autographed by his dad, Hal Moore, as thoughtful gifts to the award recipients. 

“In offering some of these signed books, please recognize that their value is the stories of love and leadership and not a signature on a page,” David said in his message to the awardees. “As Hal Moore Warrior Athlete winners, you have already demonstrated the character of not only Hal Moore, but also of the great men and women who pass though West Point. I encourage your continued professional development and wish you success as you serve our Army. Congratulations. And as dad would say, ‘Drive On?’”

In their own words … Craig, Nkamwa speak about receiving the Hal Moore Award

Nkamwa, a native of Columbia, Maryland, said it was a surprise to be chosen for the Hal Moore Award, and to be recognized with the honor that is named after an extraordinary leader.

“I really can’t find the words to describe how much this means to me. It is an enormous honor,” said Nkamwa, an American politics major. “Lt. Gen. Moore believed in a winning mentality, in pushing through adversity, and creating strong teams. That is exactly the type of person I strive to be. The fact that others recognize these traits in me, it encourages me to be a leader on my team, in my unit and as a future officer.”

As for Craig, the news of his nomination was also a surprise, especially after receiving an email about the award. He humbly recognizes that success throughout his Army wrestling career has been limited and that he considers his academic grades to be average at best.  

“I knew about the award from seeing others win it in the years past,” said Craig, a native of Vancouver, Washington. “But I never thought I would be nominated, or much less win the award.”

While honored to receive the award, ever since learning about it, he has immersed himself in learning more about Hal Moore and delving in his book, “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young.”

“Lt. Gen. Hal Moore was an incredible leader who had an unwavering view on physical and mental discipline,” said Craig, an engineering management major. “I will continue to do everything in my power to represent what he stood for and the warrior ethos in my competition, Army career and daily life.”

The Hal Moore Award symbolizes leadership. As Nkamwa and Craig pursue their aspirations of becoming second lieutenants in the Army, the question arises: What does it mean to be a great leader?

“A great leader is someone who can inspire their team to work hard in the face of adversity,” said Nkamwa, who hopes to branch Engineers with a branch detail to Infantry. “As I work toward being an Army officer, I want to develop my ability to build teams. That’s who I want to be.”

Craig, who hopes to branch Engineers, said a great leader is one who leads by example.

“I cannot expect others to do what I do not do myself. I like to remember my time as a plebe, and the role models I looked up to on the Army Wrestling team,” Craig explained. “If those Firsties did something, then I assumed I should do the same. My coach, Kevin Ward, has said in the past, ‘If everyone on the team was training the same way you were, would the team be getting better?’ 

“I consider this question as I go through my academic classes, my DPE classes and in my training on the wrestling team so that I can be sure the wrestling team and the Corps have improved because of my time at West Point,” he added. “I aspire to be a great leader that others can look up to as a role model for what is right.”

As athletes, both Nkamwa and Craig strive for excellence, and for each of them it’s not just about competing and leading in their respective sports but also proudly representing “Army” on their chests. 

“The Army Boxing team is an incredible team. Every day is a challenge, whether it’s through conditioning or sparring, or a match,” Nkamwa said. “It takes a certain type of someone – a person who is willing to challenge him or herself, a person who never quits, and a person who is relentless in their pursuit of excellence. I am so proud to be a part of that.

“The best part of representing Army Boxing is what it stands for,” she added. “When you look at our uniform, you know that we’re tough, period. We have the best boxing program in the country. And we have the best cadets at USMA. When I am competing, I have an extra layer of confidence. It’s never just me fighting in the ring, I know my entire team is there with me.”

Craig considers himself “extremely blessed” to have the opportunity to compete and lead on the Army West Point Wrestling team.

“Being an Army wrestler is something I will carry with me the rest of my life,” Craig said. “Trophies and titles are temporary, the lessons I learned from this team will live forever with me and the people I pass them onto.

“West Point cadets are blessed with the opportunity to compete while representing the greatest team on planet earth,” he added. “I compete with the mindset that it is my duty to wrestle with the tenacity that the Army can be proud of, all while setting the standard for sportsmanship and honor among competitors.”

West Point is about building character, instilling good habits and developing discipline, and the amalgamation of military and academic experiences, coupled with the athletic journey, shapes cadets like Nkamwa and Craig to be the best leaders they can be.

“My athletic experience here has taught me one thing: I cannot make excuses,” Nkamwa said. “In every DPE class, I can’t act like I don’t have control over how I perform. I just need to be better, practice more and be diligent. It’s the same thing with boxing. I know that if I want to win, I need to be better and work hard. I am always working to be the best version of myself.”

Craig said that as an Army wrestler, it has been a “very grueling experience and it tests my discipline every day.”

“I would be lying if I said that I was excited to go to practice every single day,” Craig said. “When you are cutting weight, have assignments and tests piling up, and are faced with a brutal practice, I must remain disciplined. There is a big difference between motivation and discipline. Motivation is great, and I try my best to be motivated every day but when you fail to find motivation, you must fall back on your discipline to continue training. I am thankful for the discipline that the wrestling team has helped me build. I know it will help me in my Army career.”

Both Nkamwa and Craig have plenty of people to thank for their successes at West Point. Nkamwa credits former teammate Corrine Kurz for helping her early in her career through tough sparring sessions, and her friends and teammates for “always being encouraging and that support has been incredibly meaningful.” Outside of his parents, Craig believes his coaches, Kevin Ward and Scott Green, and teammates have been the most influential to his athletic career.

“(My coaches) have guided me and the other wrestlers to be the best versions of ourselves on and off the mat,” Craig said. “My teammates have also played a pivotal role in my development through West Point. They have been there for the ups and downs, and never once let me down.”

Craig was excited to have his parents in attendance for the ceremony, especially his father, Pat, who he credits that “I would not be the man I am today if not for his unwavering support and guidance growing up.”

“Everyone needs someone in their life to push them toward greatness, and for me that person has been my dad,” he said. “He will forever be the hardest working man I have ever met, and I can trace any success in my life to the example he set.”

And for two cadets who have found a measure of success at West Point, they offered words of encouragement and advice to other cadets who strive to be the best they can be.

“I would tell them (West Point) is awesome,” Nkamwa said. “West Point is hard, and at some point, it will reveal a weakness that you have. But be glad (they) chose to better themselves and to help lead others through their adversity in light of the challenges West Point offers.”

Craig said the most important thing is to “be humble and thank those who helped you along your journey.”

“There is no such thing as a self-made man,” he concluded.