Navy SEAL who died during doctor's rescue was a Norwin High School grad
A Norwin High School graduate who earned a place among America's elite warriors died on a mission that rescued an American doctor from Taliban captors.
Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas David Checque, 28, a 10-year decorated member of the Navy's SEAL Team Six, was killed during the early Sunday mission to rescue Dr. Dilip Joseph. Neighbors, friends and administrators from Checque's high school grieved at the news.
“It was Nick's dream to be a Navy SEAL all through high school,” said Kim Victor, 47, a former neighbor in North Huntingdon.
Checque enlisted in October 2002, the year he graduated from Norwin, and entered the Navy's Special Warfare training in April 2003.
He joined an East Coast-based Special Warfare unit the next year, according to Naval Special Warfare Command.
“His mother and sister were so proud,” Victor recalled.
An unidentified woman who answered the phone at a family member's home in Houston in Washington County, said: “Thank you for calling, and thank you for your concern, but we don't wish to be contacted.”
Checque talked about becoming a SEAL as far back as seventh grade, said Anthony Troisi, a classmate and wrestling teammate. As a high school junior, Checque underwent LASIK eye surgery so he could qualify for the SEALs, Troisi said.
After grueling, 2½-hour wrestling practices and conditioning sessions, Checque would go to the swimming pool and swim laps for an hour.
“It wasn't to keep in shape; it was because he wanted to be a Navy SEAL,” said Troisi, 28, of Irwin.
Checque inspired Troisi to joined the Navy in 2002, he said, sparking a 10-year career as a crew chief on a C-9 Skytrain cargo jet. “I trusted him. He was a leader.”
Checque's work ethic was evident in high school, where he excelled academically and struck his wrestling coach as “a very hard-nosed kid.”
“He wasn't a superstar, but I'd love to have 10 to 15 Nick Checques on my team,” said his coach, Ray Ginther, 41.
Checque graduated with grades that could have gotten him into college, but he chose a different path, said Vic Mayhugh, Checque's guidance counselor at Norwin.
“He was an excellent student and did extremely well in school,” Mayhugh said. “As an 18-year-old … he knew what he wanted to do. He was a wonderful young man.”
Checque's background in wrestling likely helped him through his SEAL training, said Neil Mahoney of Los Angeles, a former SEAL who trained him. In both instances, he said, “everybody contributes to the team, but so much weight is put on each individual to make sure the team wins.”
The special operators of SEAL Team Six, officially the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, are an elite unit within an elite unit.
Their missions in recent years included the killing of Osama bin Laden and the rescue of the captain of the Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates. It is not known whether Checque was part of those operations.
Taliban fighters kidnapped Joseph, a doctor with the Colorado-based medical nonprofit Morning Star Development, on Wednesday as he and two Afghan members of Morning Star's staff were returning from a visit to a rural clinic. The kidnappers took them to a mountainous area about 50 miles from the Pakistan border, according to Morning Star's website.
The captors released the two Afghans on Saturday. Checque's SEAL team deployed to rescue Joseph after intelligence showed he was in imminent danger of injury or possible death, the military said.
Checque was shot in the head. The military declined to disclose further details.
“Our relief in the safe rescue of Mr. Joseph is now tempered by our deep grief over the loss of this true hero,” said a statement from Morning Star executive director Lars Peterson. “We offer our deepest condolences to his family and to his fellow team members. We want them to know that we will always be grateful for this sacrifice and that we will honor that sacrifice in any way we can.”
Checque served in the Iraq War and in Afghanistan operations. His decorations included the Bronze Star, Joint Service Commendation Medal and Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, among others.
“He gave his life for his fellow Americans, and he and his teammates remind us once more of the selfless service that allows our nation to stay strong, safe and free,” President Obama said on Sunday.
Checque is the second Norwin graduate to be killed in action in Afghanistan in the past several months.
Lt. Col. Christopher “Otis” Raible, 40, of North Huntingdon was killed while leading a counterattack against enemy forces on Sept. 14. Norwin held a memorial service for Raible in October at the family's request.
Renatta Signorini, Craig Smithand Mike Wereschagin are staff writers for Trib Total Media.