Nic Checque wanted to be a Navy SEAL from his high school days. A Monroeville [town], Pennsylvania kid who wrestled and played football[sport], Checque steeled himself. Cold showers. Sleeping in a his closet. No jacket on a chilly day.
Buddies pointed out how hard it would be to join the Navy SEALs. Only one in five1 in 5 survives their legendary entry training, but his family had no doubts.
"I thought, you have no idea who this kid is," his sister Ashley recalledsaid. "He will make it and then some. He was an everyday warrior."
Checque survived Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training and then some, joining the military's most storied unit: Seal TEAM 6.
He was the point man on a 2012 Team 6 mission and was fatally shot rushing in first to rescue an American hostage from a Taliban compound. For his courage, Checque was posthumuously promoted to chief and received the Navy's second-highest valor award, which was presented without fanfare at a privateat a ceremony in Virginia Beach last year. Word of the Navy Cross — and Checque's heroism — only emerged in February when his teammate, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operations (SEAL/FMF/SW) Ed Byers, received the Medal of Honor.
His family remembers Checque as a tough, big-hearted brother who tried to shield his family from the risks his job required. His mother, father and two sisters still struggle for normalcy every day three years after losing him on a mission so classified that it couldn't be discussed.
Though one operator was the man of the hour at the White House earlier this year when President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to a Navy SEAL, another man received quite a bit of praise in speeches that day.
Senior Chief Special Warfare Operations (SEAL/FMF/SW) Ed Byers wore the blue-ribboned medal for the first time on Feb. 29, but the president and the SEAL heaped praise on Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Nicolas Checque, who gave his life and earned the Navy Cross in that Medal-of-Honor mission.
The ceremony, more than three years after the Dec. 8, 2012 operation to rescue an American hostage in Afghanistan, brought some recognition to their lost loved one, but also reopened wounds that haven't quite healed for Checque's family.
"I was just proud of him," Ashley Checque, his older sister, told Navy Times in a recent phone interview. "To know that you may not live to be 30 and still doing what you’re doing, that’s incredible."
Checque, then a 28-year-old special warfare operator first class, was lead man on the the point man on a volunteer mission to rescue Dr. Dilip Joseph, a Colorado-based aide worker who had been kidnapped in mountainous eastern Afghanistan.
A helicopter dropped members of Naval Special Warfare Development Group into the hills the night before, and after a grueling five-hour patrol, the team descended on a compound where intelligence said they would find the doctor.
A shot and sprinted toward the entry of the one-room hut in a race to subdue the guards before they could harm the hostage. where the doctor may be held in a race to a guardSprinting on foot, Checque was the first to enter head to the door of the one-room hut, but a guard's bullet to his head took him down. Byers was the second man to the door, and his actions inside earned him the military's highest valor award.
For his heroism, Checque received the Navy's second-highest valor award, presented without fanfare at a privateat a ceremony in Virginia Beach last year attended by his mother and future brother-in-law.
Joining the teams
Checque wasn't the type to play army in the backyard or wear camouflage to the mall, his sister said, but he set his sights on the SEALs early and developed a plan.
He joined the Sea Cadets in high school, and calculated how to toughen himself up.
"He knew how to train himself," she said, "He wasn't out back running tires or anything. But he would do cold showers. And his bed was essentially in a closet, where he moved it and he slept."
He'd also forgo a jacket or wear shorts on a cold day in their western Pennsylvania hometown.
Once he left for boot camp and BUD/SBasic Underwater Demolition School/SEAL training in 2002, he would write letters regularly and send his family photos of his cuts and bruises from the notoriously brutal school.
Acquaintances would bring up how few people make it to the SEALS — just 20 percent of those who get into BUD/S — but Checque said she never had a doubt.
"I thought, you have no idea who this kid is," she said. "He will make it and then some. He was an everyday warrior."
He reported to his first command, a Virginia-based SEAL team, in 2004, according to his personnel records. The job was his livelihood, his sister said, but he got good at separating it from his home life.
"When he was done with work, he got in his car and came home," she said. "And when he was home, it was amazing. It was almost like you were on vacation while he was here."
He would talk a little about work, she recalled, but the family knew that he wasn't allowed to give details, and they never asked. But based on what was going on in the news, she added, they could draw conclusions about what types of missions he might be going on.
He transferred to Team 6 in 2008, his records show, but according to his sister he belonged to a different squadron than the one responsible for the 2011 operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
When he left for Afghanistan in late 2012, it was just like any other scheduled deployment, she said. He handed her his will with a, "Here, but you won't need this."
'Stellar to me'
The family knew very little about his work since joining the shadowy DEVGRU and had no reason to worry when he deployed in 2012.
"A lot of trips, we would maybe expect something like this. But this trip, we did not," recalled Ashley, referring to his deployments. "There wasn't any reason we would have thought that this would be the time."
The on a morning in December 2012, a dozen troops came up her driveway. She was first to find out, because she was the first person on his next of kin list. the December 2012 morning they were notified of his death, because she was the first person on his list. His teammates told the family that though they'd lost Checque, the mission had been successful — a hard pill to swallow.
"They said what happened, but you can kind of tell that it's not really what happened," she said. "They're not ever going to give you the answer that you're looking for."
The following months were all about filling out paperwork and making arrangements, but life is still just getting back to normal for the family. Every time things settle, Ashley said, something else comes up to remind them.
"I know he wasn't my husband and he didn't even live in Pennsylvania, but not having him just affected my daily life," Ashley said.
In 2014, Joseph published an account of his time in Afghanistan called "Kidnapped by the Taliban: A Story of Terror, Hope, and Rescue by SEAL Team Six."
The following year, the Navy finished the approval process for Checque's award. Naval Special Warfare Command declined Navy Times' request for the accompanying citation and narrative while it decides whether to declassify the award.
"Awards or not, he was just as stellar to me as he will ever be," she said.