Eslinger’s award was pinned on by Army Training and Doctrine Command boss Gen. Stephen Townsend in a ceremony at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
On Oct. 1, 2008, Eslinger and his platoon were in the middle of a dismounted patrol in Samarra, Iraq, when an enemy combatant chucked a grenade at the unit, according to his original citation. But it didn’t detonate right away, so the lieutenant scooped it up and tossed it back at the enemy, telling his guys to take cover just as it went off.
“I originally thought that the Silver Star was too much recognition for just doing what my soldiers expected me to do as a platoon leader,” Eslinger, now a CGSC student, said in a Tuesday release from the Army. “It was just action. There was no thought.”
The officer moved on from that job, with C Company, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, soon after, but in 2017, according to the release, his award came up for review in a Pentagon-wide audit of Global War on Terror valor awards.
“You can count on our Army to do the right thing sometimes, after we exhausted every other possibility,” Townsend said.
Eslinger is one of more than a dozen who have or will have their Silver Stars upgraded this year. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley signed off on the award Feb. 25, the release said.
“When I heard that Nick’s [award] had been approved for an upgrade to a Distinguished Service Cross, I immediately told the chief and vice, ‘I want to do that one,’ " Townsend said in the release. " ‘I was there when he got the [Silver Star], I want to do this one.’ ”
The officer’s father, wife and two of his daughters were there for the ceremony, the release said.
“I remember the way the grenade felt in my hand. I remember the taste of dust after the explosion. I remember the way I felt when they told me there were zero casualties," Eslinger said of that day. “That was a good feeling. I remember the look on [the enemy combatant’s] face when I was still alive and we captured him. That was a good feeling.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.