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Sports Heroes Who Served: 'Lion of Fallujah' Led His Warriors by Example

April 27, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Douglas Alexander Zembiec, born April 14, 1973, in Kealakekua, Hawaii, was blessed with athletic ability and drive. His passion was wrestling.

For two years, 1990 and 1991, he was the New Mexico state high school wrestling champion.

A U.S. Naval Academy cadet poses for a headshot photo.
Cadet Douglas A. Zembiec
U.S. Naval Academy Cadet Douglas A. Zembiec poses for an official photo in the early 1990s.
Photo By: U.S. Naval Academy
VIRIN: 940515-O-ZZ999-001

Following high school, Zembiec attended the U.S. Naval Academy. As a collegiate wrestler at the academy, he compiled a 95-21-1 record, finishing as a two-time National Collegiate Athletics Association All-American.

While at the academy, he acquired the nickname "The Snake" for his anaconda-like grip on his opponents.

Coach Reginald Wicks said Zembiec was the best-conditioned athlete he'd ever been around. 

Marines crawl from the water onto a beach.
Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance School
Douglas A. Zembiec leads Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance School students ashore at Fort Story, Va., in 2000 or 2001.
Photo By: Courtesy of the Marine Reconnaissance Foundation
VIRIN: 000515-O-ZZ999-001

After graduation from the academy on May 31, 1995, Zembiec was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

In 1996, Zembiec was a rifle platoon commander with B Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines.

A year later, he joined 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company, where for almost 3 years he was a platoon commander, operations officer and company commander.

Zembiec's rifle platoon was among the first special operations forces to enter Kosovo during Operation Joint Guardian in June 1999.

A Marine in combat gear speaks into a headset.
Radio Orders
Then-Marine Corps Capt. Doug Zembiec, commanding Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, radios orders to his men during combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq, April 8, 2004.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Jose E. Guillen
VIRIN: 040408-A-DQ999-001

In July 2003, he took command of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. 

Zembiec earned the nickname the Lion of Fallujah as a result of his heroic actions commanding E Company during Operation Vigilant Resolve in 2004 in Iraq, leading the assault into the city of Fallujah. Zembiec's wife said her husband referred to  his Marines as lions in letters he wrote to her from Iraq. That's how he earned the nickname.

As a result of that epic battle, Zembiec earned the Silver Star Medal, the Bronze Star Medal and two Purple Heart medals.

Eight pallbearers dressed in military uniforms carry a coffin draped with an American flag.
Funeral Ceremony
Marine and Navy officers carry the body of Marine Corps Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec from the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Md. Zembiec, former commander of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on May 15, 2007. Zembiec once said his Marines "fought like lions" during combat in Fallujah.
Photo By: Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva
VIRIN: 070515-O-ZZ999-001

In 2005, Zembiec was promoted to major. Shortly after that, he separated from the Marine Corps and joined the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division in Iraq. On May 11, 2007, he was killed by enemy small-arms fire while leading a raid in Baghdad.

 

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Photo By: DOD
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