By Jonathan Silver and Amy McConnell Schaarsmith Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At least as far back as middle school, when combat for him was nothing more than squaring off with a wrestling opponent on a gym mat, Nicolas D. Checque wanted to become an elite warrior.
Four months after graduating Norwin High School in North Huntingdon, in June 2002, he entered the military and embarked on the career path that molded him into the elite Navy SEAL he had long dreamed of becoming.
Petty Officer 1st Class Checque was shot in the head and killed Saturday in Afghanistan, according to a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command. He died during a combat mission to rescue a kidnapped American doctor from the Taliban in the Sorobi District near Kabul, according to the office of U.S. Rep Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. Mr. Checque, who was 28 and lived in Virginia Beach, Va., was remembered by his friends Monday as a young man who always wanted to be the best at everything he did.
"He was a super kid. Very good student. He was on the wrestling team. He was serious, and I mean that in a positive standpoint. He was serious about what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go," said Victor Mayhugh, the high school's retired guidance counselor, who knew Petty Officer Checque and one of his two sisters. "Nic was the strong silent type, so to speak."
Petty Officer Cheque was a 10-year military veteran who served both in Afghanistan and in Iraq. He had been awarded the Bronze Star, the Joint Service Commendation Medal and the Navy/Marine Corps commendation and achievement medals for service during combat, among other honors. The Associated Press also reported that Mr. Checque was a member of Seal Team Six, the ultra-elite squad that killed Osama bin Laden last year. It is unclear, the report said, whether Petty Officer Checque had been part of that mission.
Petty Officer Checque, according to Mr. Murphy, was involved in the Afghanistan operation launched to rescue Dilip Joseph, who was reported to be in imminent danger. Dr. Joseph, who worked with the nonprofit Morning Star Development of Colorado Springs, was kidnapped Wednesday along with two Afghan staff members -- one is part of the medical team, the other part of the support team. Dr. Joseph has been the nonprofit's medical adviser for three years.
Mr. Murphy offered his condolences to Mr. Checque's family members, and asked for the community to pray for them. "Today we grieve deeply as a community who lost a son and a grateful nation who lost a sailor," he said.
High school wrestling teammates remembered Petty Officer Checque as a tall, slender, quiet-spoken youth who completed his senior year at 160 pounds. They echoed one another's recollections of a driven young man who saw the Navy SEALS as a long-term goal and his life's mission.
Mr. Checque was shy and reserved until he grew to know someone, friends said. But when he opened up, he sometimes revealed a quirky side to his closest friends.
"He was a very spirited individual, very tough-minded. He always talked a lot about becoming a SEAL after graduation, and it was kind of interesting that after high school you kind of lost track of him because of the career path he took," said Josh Behun, who graduated with Petty Officer Checque.
"He was kind of a ham when you got to know him," said Mr. Behun, of Baltimore. "He was fun to joke around with. He would get into the spirit of jokes and pranks."
In spite of the dangers inherent in his friend's job, 28-year-old Anthony Troisi said he was shocked to hear of his death.
"He was always the smartest, he was always the toughest, he was always a leader -- he was my mentor," said Mr. Troisi, who joined the wrestling team with Mr. Checque in seventh grade and enlisted in the Navy shortly after Mr. Checque did.
Mr. Checque was so committed to becoming a SEAL, Mr. Troisi said, that when he learned in high school that candidates' vision had to be perfect, he got Lasik surgery to correct his vision. And throughout high school, he never wavered in his training to prepare for that elite team, often following grueling two-hour daily wrestling practices with an additional hour of swimming laps, Mr. Troisi said.
Mr. Checque also ran three to four miles several times a week with fellow wrestler and workout partner David Gardner, who recalled Mr. Checque's steely determination. His friend "wasn't the best athlete in the room, but he was the guy working harder than anyone else and that's what made him successful," said Mr. Gardner, 29, a certified trucking broker in Cambridge, Md.
"Some people go through the motions, but there was no going through the motions with Nic," Mr. Gardner said.