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.
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.
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.
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.
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.