It is hard to quantify a man’s impact on the world or to explain how very special somebody is when limited by the constraints of ink and paper. I suppose I could write volumes about how much you meant to me as a friend, and the positive impact you had on everybody around you, but I lack the literary grace to truly and accurately convey what I really feel … That said, please let me attempt to give just an inkling of what an amazing person you were and what a gift your life was to the rest of us.
To Doug’s Family and Friends:
Passionate, Hard-working, Optimistic, and Loving. These are the four adjectives that best begin to describe the amazing person Doug DiCenzo was to me.
I met Doug when we arrived to West Point in the summer of 1995. Immediately Doug struck me as motivated. His motivation far exceeded that of our peers. After spending just a few moments with Doug, it was obvious that his motivation was rooted in his passion. Doug was a passionate person in everything he did.
During our first year at West Point, Doug was passionate about being the best cadet he could be. He worked tirelessly to excel physically, academically, and (most importantly to Doug) militarily.
I believe that Doug’s passion was the cause of his work ethic. Doug worked harder than anybody I have ever known. He was naturally gifted and could have skated through life with his God-given talents, but that was not his style. Doug’s style was to take his natural abilities, sprinkle on some passion and a heavy dose of hard work, and continue to improve himself and everything that he was involved with.
I figure anybody else would burn out living such a passionate life and always working so hard. Maybe Doug would have burnt out if it weren’t for a third trait he always displayed: optimism. Doug was the most optimistic person I have ever met. He was the kind of guy who would go looking for a cloud just so he could gaze at its silver lining. Any time something went wrong, Doug would dismiss is as “the only negative” and focus his energy on what was going right.
I remember one particular day in the summer of 1997 where Doug displayed his passion, hard-work, and optimistic attitude all in the course of an inner tube ride. Doug had come out to Oregon that summer to visit, and we headed to a lake for the weekend. Always in the mood for some friendly competition, Doug and I decided to have an inner tube war. The rules were simple: we each had an inner tube attached to the back of the boat. The driver would spin us around as much as possible creating waves and trying to knock us off the tubes. At the same time we would try to knock each other off the tubes using spray, leverage, brute strength, or whatever else we could think of. The last man on a tube was the winner. As we pulled away from the dock, the war was on. We each would lean trying to direct our tubes towards each other and as we came close enough we would try to kick, push, or pull our opponent’s tube to disturb their ride. After a few minutes it was clear to me that Doug was a worthy opponent. Every attack I made on Doug’s tube was followed by an equally aggressive counterattack. The battle raged on as we skipped across the lake and then I saw my chance. The boat had just come out of a curve and Doug’ tube was skimming towards me. I could see that he was going to hit a wave right before he got to me and if I kicked the side of his tube as he was coming off the wave he was sure to turn over. I was right. As Doug came off the wave at full speed I kicked as hard as I could causing the edge of his tube to catch. The tube violently flipped over and Doug was gone. I raised my hand in victory and looked back to the boat where my dad, friend, and bother were all laughing. As we continued across the lake I hit another bump and watched the faces in the boat change from laughing and amused to shocked and awed. Confused about their reaction I looked back and saw Doug on top of his tube. Somehow, he had managed to hold on to his tube while he was being dragged under the water. He refused to let go and when his tube hit the next bump he used the opportunity to flip back over. Needless to say, the moment I saw Doug back on top of his tube is when my face changed from the gloating victor to the shocked guy who was about to loose the inner tube war! Doug showed us that day that he was passionate (about beating me), he was willing to work hard (and believe me it is hard to hold onto a tube that is upside down while you are being dragged through the water at about 20 miles per hour), and he was optimistic about his chances of winning.
As we grew and matured as cadets, Doug’s new passion was to become the very best infantry officer he could be. On May 30th, 1999, the day after we graduated from West Point, Doug and I drove out the Washington Gate, took a picture of the academy in our rearview mirror, and began our lives as officers in the United States Army. By this point Doug had internalized the old infantry adage “follow me” and was ready to begin leading Soldiers.
It was while Doug was in the Infantry Officer Basic Course that I really started to see how loving he was as well. Doug called me one day and told me that he met a girl. The excitement in his voice was amazing and he was so anxious for me to meet Nicole. We made plans and all got together in Birmingham, Alabama where I finally had the chance to meet this girl Doug was so smitten with. What a perfect match they were and it was no surprise that they were soon engaged and planning their wedding. Actually they planned two weddings, the secret one in Alaska and the second one we all showed up to in New Hampshire.
Doug, who was always smiling, smiled even bigger when he was with Nicole. Every time I saw them together he was smiling like he was on his first date with the girl of his dreams. A few years down the road Doug’s heart found a way to love even more as Nicole gave birth to their beautiful boy Dakin.
Deploying to Kuwait and eventually into Iraq was bitter-sweet for Doug. Doug did not want to be away from Nicole and Dak for a minute more than he had to. At the same time, he was proud to command his company as they moved forward and welcomed the opportunity to make an impact in the war on terror. In an e-mail shortly after he arrived to Baghdad, Doug told me where he was located and where his company worked. He went on to talk about being in Iraq as opposed to Kuwait, this is what he said:
“It is good to be here and the 4th [Infantry Division Commanding General] talked to us today. He thinks we will stay through the seating of the government. I hope he is right. Our [task force] has lost 3 Soldiers already and we need some time to make an impact on this area. How was your R&R leave? I can’t wait to see Nic and Dak. Nic sent some great pictures of him finger painting the other day. It rocked.”
Doug was passionate about being a Soldier and making a difference in his unit and Iraq.
Doug was passionate about being a husband and father and could not wait to finish his duty here in Iraq so he could be with his loving wife and beautiful son again.
The last time I heard from Doug, he was asking for advice about where and at what altitudes he could fly unmanned aerial vehicles to help improve his mission accomplishment without interfering with helicopter traffic. The closing of his e-mail is typical of Doug always wanting to serve and make the best impact he could. He wrote:
“Life is good. We might be changing battle space which will be a nice change. It is fun having our own patrol base, but my combat power could be used better elsewhere. We are awaiting another mythical decision about our status in June. We will either stay here … or we will go back to Kuwait. Kuwait would be sooooo boring after this. How is command? I can’t wait for leave in July. This is way too long to be away from Nic and Dak. Dak is all over the place now.”
Nicole: Never forget how much Doug loves you. He was passionate about you and you made him a better man than he already was.
Dak: Know your daddy loves you with all his heart. He was a wonderful man and an example for all of us to live by. Please learn from his memory. He believed in what he was doing. When we were cadets in school he would yell out the New Hampshire motto: “Live free or die.” He was passionate about our freedom. He was willing to work hard to ensure our continued freedom. He was optimistic that his efforts would help secure our freedom, and he was loving enough to sacrifice his life so that we can live free.
Doug still lives with us, in our hearts and in our memories.
Doug, like Jesus, you lived your life saying. . .
Thank you for leading the way home so that we can follow you.
– Jake Miller