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Ryan Pitts Medal of Honor ceremony

Ryan Pitts Medal of Honor ceremony


We honor his desire–
remember the nine soldiers he continues to respect
by his deeds each day. By honoring him today, we honor
the courage and commitment of all who serve in harm’s way. This we pray in Your
holy name, amen. Amen. Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the White House. Please, be seated. Please, be seated. For our forces in Afghanistan,
the Battle of Wanat was one of the most
fierce of this entire war. Forty-eight Americans, along
with their Afghan partners, were manning their small
base deep in a valley, when they were attacked
by some 200 insurgents. And those insurgents
seemed determined to overrun an even
smaller post just outside the base, an elevated
patch of boulders and sand bags defended by just nine
American soldiers. Soon, under the relentless
fire, all nine of these men were wounded or killed. Insurgents broke
through the wire, that little post was on
the verge of falling, giving the enemy
a perch from which to devastate the base below. Against that onslaught,
one American held the line. Just 22 years old, nearly
surround, bloodied but unbowed, the soldier we recognize today
with our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal
of Honor– Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts. Now I don’t want
to embarrass Ryan, but the character he
displayed that day was clearly forged early. I’m told that in
kindergarten, when asked what he wanted
to be when he grew up, he drew a picture of a soldier. When he was in fifth
grade, his teacher sent home a note
the described Ryan in words that would be familiar
to all those who knew him today. “Ryan,” she wrote, “is a
very special human being.” In Ryan Pitts, you see the
humility and the loyalty that defined America’s
men and women in uniform. “This medal,” he says,
“it’s not mine alone. It belongs to
everybody who was there that day, because
we did it together.” So I want to welcome those
who were there that day– Ryan’s brothers
in arms and those who welcoming– are
going to be welcoming him into their ranks– the members
of the Medal of Honor society. We are very proud
of them, and we are honored by the presence
of the families of our fallen heroes, as well. We welcome Ryan’s family,
many from New Hampshire, including his
wonderful wife, Amy. I have to take a pause because
they are actually celebrating, Ryan and Amy, their
second anniversary today. As Ryan put it, it’s going
to be tough topping this one, as anniversaries go. But let me just give
you a piece of advice, as somebody who now has been
married for over 20 years. You should try. I’m just saying, don’t
rest on your laurels after just two years. We welcome their gorgeous
son, one-year-old Lucas, who Ryan is beginning to
teach a love for all things New England– of
course the Red Sox, and the Bruins, and the
Celtics, and the Pats. I want you to try and imagine
the extraordinary circumstances in which Ryan and
his team served. This was the summer
of 2008, and this was a time when our
forces in Afghanistan were stretched
thin, and our troops were deployed to
isolated outposts. They had just arrived in
Wanat– just days before. And they were still building
their very small base– a handful of armored
vehicles, and fighting positions, and
foxholes, and sand bags. Wanat, one report
later concluded, had significant vulnerabilities. Parts of the village
sat on higher ground. On every side, mountain soared
10,000 feet into the sky. Heavy equipment, to help build
their defenses, was delayed. In the hundred degree heat,
the soldiers ran low on water. And the aerial surveillance
they were counting on was diverted away
to other missions. Early that morning, in
the predawn darkness, they spotted several
men of the mountains. But before Ryan and his
team could take action, the entire valley erupted. Machine gunfire, and
mortar, and rocket propelled grenades poured
down from every direction. Those 200 insurgents
were firing from ridges, and from the village,
and from trees. Down at the base,
a vehicle exploded, scattering its missiles
back at our soldiers. “It was,” said a
soldier, “hell on earth.” Up at their tiny post, Ryan and
his team were being pounded. Almost instantly, every
one of them was wounded. Ryan was hit by shrapnel
in the arm, and both legs, and was bleeding badly. Already three American
soldiers, in that valley, had fallen and then a fourth. As the insurgents moved
in, Ryan picked up a grenade, pulled the pin,
and held that live grenade for moment, then
another, then another, finally hurling it so they
couldn’t throw it back. And he did that again,
and he did it again. Unable to stand, Ryan pulled
himself up on his knees and manned a machine gun. Soldiers from base below made
a daring run, dodging bullets and explosions, and
joined the defense. But now the enemy
was inside the post. So close, they were throwing
rocks at the Americans. So close, they came right
up to the sand bags. Eight American soldiers
had now fallen, and Ryan Pitts was the only
living soldier at that post. The enemy was so close, Ryan
could hear their voices. He whispered into the radio. He was the only one left
and was running out of ammo. “I was going to
die,” he remembers, “and made my peace with it.” And then he prepared
to make a last stand. Bleeding, and barely conscious,
Ryan threw his last grenades. He grabbed a grenade launcher
and fired nearly straight up so the grenade came back down
on the enemy just yards away. One insurgent was now
right on top of the post, shooting down, until
another team of Americans showed up and drove them back. As one of his teammates
said, “Had it not been for Ryan Pitts, that
post almost certainly would have been overrun.” Even with reinforcements,
the battle was not over. Another wave of rocket propelled
grenades slammed into the post. Nine Americans were now gone,
and still the fighting raged. Ryan worked the
radio, helping target the air strikes that
were hitting danger close– just yards away. And with those strikes, the
tide of battle began to turn. Eventually, the
insurgents fell back. Ryan, and his fellow soldiers,
had held their ground. “This medal,” Ryan says, “is an
opportunity to tell our story. There was valor everywhere,”
according to Ryan. And so today, we
also pay tribute to all who served with
such valor that day, shielding their wounded
buddies with their own bodies, picking up unexploded
missiles with their hands and carrying them away,
running through the gunfire to reinforce that post,
fighting through their injuries, and never giving up– helicopter
pilots and medevac crews who came in under heavy fire. Said one soldier,
“Never, in my career, have I seen such
bravery and sacrifice.” And so I would ask all those who
served at Wanat, on the ground and in the air,
to please stand– those of you who are here today. “Most of all,” Ryan says,
“we consider this medal a memorial for the guys
who didn’t come home.” So today, we honor
nine American soldiers who made the ultimate
sacrifice for us all. The son who absorbed love like
a sponge, the expectant father whose dream would later
come true– a beautiful baby girl, Specialist Sergio Abad. The boy who dominated
the soccer fields, fell in love with
motorcycles, and there, in that remote outpost,
took a direct hit in helmet and kept on fighting,
Corporal Jonathan Ayers. The photographer whose
beautiful pictures captured the spirit
of the Afghan people, and who wrote to his
family, “Afghanistan is exactly where I wanted to
be,” Corporal Jason Bogar. The father who loved
surfing with his son, the platoon leader who led
a dash through the gunfire to that post to reinforce his
men, First Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom. An immigrant from Mexico who
became a proud American soldier on his third tour, whose final
thoughts were of his family and his beloved wife, Leslie,
Sergeant Israel Garcia. A young man of deep faith
who served God and country, who could always get a
laugh with his impersonation of his commander,
Corporal Jason Hovater. The husband who couldn’t
wait to become an uncle, the adventurous spirit who, in
every photo from Afghanistan, has a big smile on his face,
Corporal Matthew Phillips. The big guy with an even bigger
heart, a prankster whose best play was cleaning up at the
poker table with his buddies and his dad, Corporal
Pruitt Rainey. And the youngest,
just 20 years old, the little brother the platoon
who loved to play guitar and who, says his dad,
did everything in his life with passion, Corporal
Gunnar Zwilling. These American patriots
lived to serve us all. They died to protect each
of us, and their legacy lives on in the hearts of
all who love them still, especially their families–
mothers, fathers, wives, brothers and sisters,
sons and daughters. To you, their families,
I know no words can match the
depth of your loss. But please know that
this nation will honor your soldiers
now and forever. And I would ask the Gold Star
families, from that deployment, to please stand, including
Ali Kaylor, age 11, and Jase Brostrom who,
this week, turns 12. Please stand. This is the story Ryan
wants us to remember– soldiers who loved each
other like brothers and fought for each
other, and families who have made a sacrifice that
our nation must never forget. Ryan says, “I think
we owe it to them to live lives worthy
of their sacrifices.” And he’s absolutely right. As Commander in
Chief, I believe one of the ways we can do that is
by heeding the lessons of Wanat. When this nation sends our
troops into harm’s way, they deserve a sound strategy
and a well-defined mission. And they deserve the forces and
support to get the job done. And that’s what we owe
soldiers like Ryan, and all the comrades
that were lost. That’s how we can truly
honor all those who gave their lives that day. That’s how, as a nation,
we can remain worthy of their sacrifice. I know that’s a
view that’s shared by our Secretary of Defense and
by our Joint Chiefs of Staff and all the leadership here. They’re hard lessons. But they’re ones that are
deeply ingrained in our hearts. It is remarkable that we have
young men and women serving in our military who,
day in day out, are able to perform with so
much integrity, so much humility, and so much courage. Ryan represents the very
best of that tradition. And we are very, very proud of
him, as we are of all of you. So God bless you, Ryan. God bless all who
serve in our name. May God continue to bless
the United States of America. And with that, I would
like our military aid to, please, complete
the ceremony. The President of the
United States of America, authorized by act of
Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded, in the
name of Congress, the Medal of Honor to Sergeant
Ryan M. Pitts, United States Army, for conspicuous
gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above
and beyond the call of duty. Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts
distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of
heroism at the risk of his life, above and beyond
the call of duty, while serving as a
forward observer, in 2nd Platoon, chosen company,
2nd Battalion Airborne, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd
Airborne Brigade, during combat operations against an armed
enemy at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, in the vicinity of
Wanat Village, Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on July 13, 2008. Early that morning,
while Sergeant Pitt’s was providing perimeter security
at observation post top side, a well-organized
anti-Afghan force, consisting of over
200 members, initiated a close proximity sustained
and complex assault, using accurate and intense
rocket propelled grenade, machine gun, and small arms fire
on Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. An immediate wave
of rocket propelled grenade rounds engulfed
the observation post, wounding Sergeant Pitts and
inflicting heavy casualties. Sergeant Pitts had been
knocked to the ground and was bleeding heavily from
shrapnel wounds to his arm and legs. But with incredible
toughness and resolve, he subsequently took control
of the observation post and returned fire on the enemy. As the enemy drew
nearer, Sergeant Pitts threw grenades, holding them
after the pin was pulled and the safety lever was
released to allow a nearly immediate detonation
on the hostile forces. Unable to stand on his
own, and near death because of the severity of his
wounds and blood loss, Sergeant Pitts continued
to lay suppressive fire until a two-man
reinforcement team arrived. Sergeant Pitts
quickly assisted them by giving up his main weapon
and gathering ammunition, all while continually
lobbying fragmentary grenades until these were expended. At this point,
Sergeant Pitts crawled to the northern position radio
and described the situation to the command post as the enemy
continued to try and isolate the observation post from
the main patrol base. With the enemy close enough
for him to hear their voices and with total disregard
for his own life, Sergeant Pitts whispered
in radio situation reports and conveyed information
that the command post used to provide indirect
fire support. Sergeant Pitts’ courage,
steadfast commitment to the defense of
his unit, and ability to fight while
seriously wounded, prevented the enemy from
overrunning the observation post and capturing
fallen American soldiers, and ultimately,
prevented the enemy from gaining fortified positions
on higher ground from which to attack Wanat
Vehicle Patrol Base. Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts’
extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and
beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest
traditions of military service and reflect great credit
upon himself, Company C, 2nd Battalion Airborne, 503rd
Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and
the United States Army. It’s not bad to
stand up on this one. Let us pray. Oh God, renew our hearts
and our faith in you with a firm conviction to live
with humility and confidence that’s strengthened from our
shared admiration of Staff Sergeant Pitts’
exemplary service, his bravery, and devotion. Grant to us your favor
that our nation may remain strong and safe, a free
land, made so by brave soldiers who defend her on our
shores and faraway outposts, even today. Guide us in our lives so
that we might remain worthy of their trust and
respect, even as they remain faithful
in their service. All this we pray in your
blessed and holy name, amen. Well that concludes the
official part of the ceremony, but we still have a
big anniversary party. The White House,
I understand, has prepared some pretty good
edibles and some beverages. And so I hope everybody
enjoys the reception. I want to, once
again, thank all who served and the families
of those who served. You make us proud
every single day. And to Ryan, Amy, and Luke,
we wish you all the very best, because what an extraordinary
family you have. And the pleasures of family were
hard earned by this young man. So thank you very
much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America.


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