Hall of Heroes Ceremony for Ryan M. Pitts (Full Version)

Hall of Heroes Ceremony for Ryan M. Pitts (Full Version)


Welcome to the Medal of Honor
Induction Ceremony in honor of Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts. Sergeant Pitts was awarded
our nation’s highest and most prestigious award for valor
by the president of the United States, the Medal of Honor. This morning, he
will formally be inducted into the Pentagon’s
most sacred place, the Hall of Heroes. Our hosts for today’s ceremony
are the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the honorable
Robert Work, the Secretary of the Army, the
honorable John M. McHugh, the Chief of Staff of the
Army, General Ray Odierno, and the Sergeant Major of
the Army, Ray Chandler. Ladies and gentlemen,
please stand for the arrival of
the official party and remain standing for the
singing of our national anthem by Sergeant First Class Pablo
Talamante and the invocation, which will be delivered by
Chaplin Donald L. Rutherford. [MUSIC – PABLO TALAMANTE, “THE
STAR-SPANGLED BANNER”] And let us pray. Heavenly Father, today we
honor Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts for his marvelous
combat actions. Truly, he hold the
loyalty he expressed to his team and the
humility with which he accepts this honor we bestow
upon him from our great nation. By his bravery shown
on the battlefield and through his values,
actions, and works he epitomize, the Army
profession and our warrior ethos. In the hour and valley
of the shadow of death remained faithful and
tenacious to fight on even after being wounded. He truly holds dear the memory
of the men with whom he fought. We join with him in honoring
their service and sacrifice for our nation. With your presence, abide with
us this day in this ceremony as we pray together
in your holy name. Amen. Please be seated. Ladies and gentlemen, the
Chief of Staff of the Army. [APPLAUSE] Good morning, everyone. It’s my distinct
pleasure to be here today to honor Staff Sergeant
Ryan Pitts, who joins a rare fraternity of
military service members who have displayed
extraordinary acts of valor during exceptional
circumstances with great risk to their own personal safety. Staff Sergeant Pitts embodies
the essence of a soldier and represents what every man
and woman who dons this uniform strives to be, an individual
who has earned the trust of all with whom he associates,
one who possesses a humility and selflessness
that we all respect, one who embraces esprit de
corps and routinely demonstrates a dedication to his
profession that epitomizes the ethos of the
American soldier. In the face of
imminent danger, who always put his mission first. He never quit. He never accepted defeat. And above all else, he never
left his fallen comrades. Today we are here to honor
Staff Sergeant Pitts, but we must never forget the
sacrifices of the nine soldiers lost on July 13, 2008
at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler in OP Topside. We remember PFC Sergio S. Abad,
Corporal Jonathan R. Ayers, Corporal Jason M. Bogar,
First Lieutenant Jonathan P. Brostrom, Sergeant Israel
Garcia, Corporal Jason D. Hovater, and Corporal Matthew
P. Phillips, Corporal Pruitt A. Rainey, and Corporal
Gunnar W. Zwilling. We also remember Sergeant
First Class Matthew Kahler, Sergeant Pitts’
Platoon Sergeant who was killed in action
on January 26, 2008 after whom the Vehicle
Patrol Base was named. We are honored to have some of
their family members with us today. We will never forget the
dedication, commitment, and sacrifice of your husband,
son, brother, or grandson. Will the family
members please stand and be recognized at this time. [APPLAUSE] I would also like to
welcome with us today Senator Shaheen
from New Hampshire, Senator Kelly Ayotte
from New Hampshire, Representative Ann Kuster from
the Second District of New Hampshire, Deputy Secretary
of Defense Robert Work, Secretary of the
Army John McHugh, General (Retired)
Gordon Sullivan, the 32nd Chief of
Staff of the Army, Sergeant Major of the
Army Ray Chandler, our other Assistant
Secretaries of the Army, General Officers,
Sergeant Majors, other distinguished guests
from our Department of Defense and Army leadership that
are joining us here today. I’d also like to recognize
Medal of Honor recipients Colonel (Retired) Harvey Barnum,
Jr., First Lieutenant (Retired) Brian Thacker, and Staff
Sergeant (Retired) Kyle White. I’d also like to extend a
special welcome to Sergeant Pitts’ family and friends,
his wife Amy, his son Lucas, his grandmother Kathleen,
father and mother-in-law Michael and Claudette,
and his brother Scott. And it’s also appropriate
that we recognize the members and leaders of Chosen Company,
2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment from the 173rd
Airborne Brigade Combat Team Sky Soldiers who are
here with us today. All of us who wear this uniform
understand the personal nature of combat and the
complete reliance we have on our brothers
and sisters in arms. And your presence today
reinforces these strong bonds formed under
extraordinary conditions. And that’s who determines who we
are as soldiers, the bonds that are formed during the
most difficult times. And it’s incredibly appropriate
that you are all here today, and we’re proud of your service
and all that you’ve done. So would you please all stand
and be recognized at this time. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. In combat, you never know
what each day might bring. What you do know is
that you must always be ready, mentally
and physically. But some days are simply
very different than others. That day for Sergeant Pitts
and elements of Chosen Company were very different. In the early morning
twilight, insurgents moved into fighting positions
overlooking Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler and Observation
Post Topside, which was about 100 meters
above the patrol base. Sergeant Pitts, the
forward observer, was manning OP Topside with
a team of eight others. That morning, soldiers at
the vehicle patrol base identified enemy fighters
on a hillside east of Wanat. As Sergeant Pitts and
Sergeant Matthew Gobble prepared a request
for indirect fire, an estimated 200 insurgents
launched a full-scale assault. The attack began with a
volley of machine gun fire from a two-story building
on a terraced hill but quickly swelled
into an all-out assault with machine guns,
rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades thrown
at very close range. Within minutes, everyone
at OP Topside was wounded and several were killed. And that was just from
the first volley of fire. Sergeant Pitts received
grenade shrapnel to both legs and his left arm. Sergeant Pitts was thrown
toward the northern position in a blast. Seeking cover, he crawled to the
southern end of the observation post. There, Corporal Jason
Bogar applied a tourniquet to his right leg. Specialist Tyler
Stafford informed him that the northern
position was destroyed, and Corporal Matthew Phillips
and Corporal Gunnar Zwilling had both been killed. Sergeant Pitts
immediately returned to the northern position
where grenades were stored. With enemy fighters
moving up to take the OP, he threw grenades into the
draw just beyond the perimeter to the north,
holding each grenade after the pin was pulled and
the safety lever was released to allow nearly an
immediate detonation. Between tossing
grenades, Sergeant Pitts updated the Company Commander,
Captain Matthew Myer, of casualties and
enemy locations. To conserve hand
grenades, Sergeant Pitts grabbed the M240B machine gun. Unable to stand, Sergeant Pitts
blind-fired the machine gun to provide momentary cover,
then propped himself up on his knees. Within minutes of this initial
report to Captain Myer, the enemy forces
destroyed the TOW system and the 120-millimeter
mortar firing pit below. At this point, Sergeant
Pitts was the only contact between the command post and
OP Topside and the only person left capable of controlling
indirect fire support from FOB Blessing onto targets
around his position. Against overwhelming
enemy fires, First Lieutenant
Jonathan Brostrom maneuvered an element from
the patrol base to the OP. On arrival, Sergeant Pitts
gave Lieutenant Brostrom a situation report. Taking Corporal Pruitt Rainey’s
M4 with a mounted M-203 grenade launcher,
Sergeant Pitts continued to send requests
for indirect fire, while Lieutenant Brostrom,
Corporal Jason Hovater, and Corporal Bogar
and Corporal Rainey moved to defensive positions. Minutes later,
Sergeant Pitts realized that no other fires
were coming from the OP. He crawled silently
from his position to the southern perimeter to
discover that he was alone. Losing blood, Sergeant
Pitts radioed Captain Myer to inform him that
he was the last man. Insurgents were in such close
proximity to Sergeant Pitts that soldiers at
the command post could hear enemy
voices over the radio. But Sergeant Pitts did not quit. Thinking his position
would soon be overrun, he was determined to do
as much damage as possible to the enemy. Taking the M-203
grenade launcher, Sergeant Pitts began firing
it directly overhead, sending grenades just
beyond the perimeter. Over the radio, Sergeant
Pitts called for anyone with a line of sight to begin
firing over his position. Sergeant Brian Hissong, at
the casualty collection point below, answered the
call and laid down fire directly over Sergeant Pitts. While Sergeant Hissong
provided suppressive fire, Staff Sergeant Sean Samarro,
Sergeant Israel Garcia, Specialist Michael Denton,
and Specialist Jacob Sones moved from the traffic
control point to the OP. There, Specialist Sones treated
Sergeant Pitts’ injuries when another round of
explosives mortally wounded Sergeant Garcia. Sergeant Pitts crawled
to Sergeant Garcia and comforted him until being
moved from the open to the OP southern end. Sergeant Pitts,
nearly unconscious, radioed Captain Myer
the needed feedback to direct the first helicopter
attack run on insurgents only 30 meters north of the OP. This allowed soldiers at
the vehicle patrol base to move a third group of
reinforcement up the terraces. After fighting for
nearly two hours, Sergeant Pitts was
medically evacuated, and the OP was secured. Sergeant Pitts’ incredible
physical and mental toughness, his determination
and resilience, and his ability to communicate
with leadership while under heavy fire allowed
US Forces to hold the OP and turn the tide of the battle. Today, we induct Staff Sergeant
Pitts into the Hall of Heroes. His demonstrated uncommon
valor and extraordinary courage under fire, his
competence, his commitment to his fellow soldiers,
unit, and the mission, and his incredible character
epitomizes the Army profession and the best of what our
soldiers and Army represents. I am moved by Staff
Sergeant Pitts’ humility, his selflessness,
and his respect for his fellow soldiers. This, combined with
his gallantry, courage, and determination under
chaotic conditions, separate him from others. His lasting legacy
will be of all those he has influenced
by his actions. We honor Staff Sergeant Pitts,
a man of courage and conviction. But by honoring him, we
also honor those heroes who fought so selflessly
by his side. The bonds formed in combat
between our brothers and sisters are everlasting
and difficult to describe to someone else. But it’s that
inspiration that drives ordinary soldiers to do
extraordinary things. And on this day, a group
of ordinary soldiers did extraordinary things. The strength of our
nation is our Army. The strength of our
Army is our soldiers. The strength of our
soldiers is our families. And that’s what makes
this Army strong. Thank you all for coming
today and God bless America. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen, the
Secretary of the Army. Good morning. It’s a great day for the
United States of America. –wonderful ceremonies
in this special hall, and it always looks wonderful. But at no time does
it look as special as it does on these
kinds of occasions, and no time does it look
so beautiful, and pretty understandably so. So thank you all so
much for coming, Chief, Sergeant Major, Miss
Chandler, Mr. secretary. Thank you, yes, for
being here today to share some thoughts
with us, but equally so for what you do each and every
day for our men and women in uniform of all
of the Services. And I want to add my words
of welcome to a good share of the New Hampshire
Congressional Delegation here today, Senator Ayotte, Senator
Shaheen, and, of course, Representative Kuster. Thank you for, again, as you did
yesterday at the White House, sharing in this
special, special moment. And the Chief noted some very
special individuals as well, the members, past and
present, of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion Airborne, 503rd
Infantry Regiment, 173rd ABCT, the Chosen few,
Ryan’s former outfit. They are a storied
bunch of soldiers, and we are deeply
honored to have them here today,
particularly the 36 who were on the ground
that day at Wanat. And the 16 aviators who are
also here that, on that day, provided close air support
and medevac services. And we have asked them to
stand, but I would ask all of us again to recognize them with
an incredibly deserved round of applause. [APPLAUSE] It is always wonderful that
present Medal of Honor awardees join in these
ceremonies to welcome a new member into their ranks. And as the Chief
rightly noted, we are again blessed to have
three such individuals, Marine Colonel Harvey Barnum, former
Army First Lieutenant Brian Thacker, and former Army
Staff Sergeant Kyle White. Gentlemen, as
always, your presence and your welcoming arms
are so very important. To the former Chief
of Staff of the Army, Gordon Sullivan, sir, thank you
for your service in the past and which you continue
to do, especially for the men and women and
families of this United States Army. Now, I need to
state the obvious. We would not have an event. We would not, in
all likelihood, have a hero were it not for the love
and support that Staff Sergeant Pitts has received from
his family and friends. Principally is Amy, his
wife, their little boy Lucas, who is happily
indulging in a bottle, and we hope it lasts
throughout the ceremony. [LAUGHTER] The continued love of
Ryan’s grandmother, Kathleen, Ryan’s brother
Scott, Amy’s parents, all of the good folks who have
joined not just in this moment, but have joined him
throughout his entire life. And I want each of
you to recognize that we recognize each of you
in your own unique and important ways has helped make Ryan
the hero he has become. And as we heard at the
White House yesterday, Amy and Ryan celebrated
yesterday their second wedding anniversary. The President, wise man that he
is, gave Ryan some wise advice. Even though the anniversary
and the awarding of the Medal of Honor happen
on the same day, he told him, don’t rest on your laurels. You got to continue
to do better. So I know you want to
follow Commander in Chief. And just a little hint, there’s
a very nice jewelry store right here in the Pentagon. [LAUGHTER] You might want to
take Amy there, put something historic
around her neck, perhaps. That will help make the
President’s recommendation come true. To the good folks of Nashua,
New Hampshire, welcome. Population 86,933. I suspect that
number significantly diminished here today. But I’ve been to Nashua. It’s a great community. It’s not unlike my
hometown, Watertown, kind of nestled against the Canadian
border, northern New York. And I know in Nashua,
like we do in Watertown, you have four seasons, almost
winter, winter, still winter, and pothole repair season. [LAUGHTER] And the folks who call
northern Virginia home think that they have it good. But I’ll tell you, those
brave folks from New Hampshire have more miles on their
snow blowers than most of you do on your cars. So we are thrilled
that you are here and sharing in this
special moment. As the Chief has said,
the Battle of Wanat was as ferocious
as it was heroic. It was one of the bloodiest
battles of the Afghan War. And yet, while it was surely a
place of unspeakable sadness, it was also a place of
incomprehensible valor. It’s a place where honor
and courage and conviction never wavered, where commitment
to one’s fellow soldiers was paramount, where,
as Ryan has described, valor was everywhere. But consistent
gallantry has always been an historical landmark
of this great US Army and the unselfish
men and women whom we are so blessed to
have fill its ranks. And as all of us know, the
true strength of America’s Army is today as it’s always been. Not in our hardware, not
in our high-tech weaponry, or secret programs, but it
lies instead in our soldiers, our volunteer soldiers,
soldiers like Ryan. So it is incumbent upon
all of us, the living, the beneficiaries, to draw new
strength, to draw inspiration from the gallantry and the
selfless service displayed by Ryan and his teammates. And as the Chief noted,
that’s especially true of the nine fearless
soldiers who fell and the 27 others who were
wounded that terrible day. Our hearts, again, go
out to their loved ones, and as you’ve seen, many of whom
are with us here this morning. Their sacrifices require from us
an equal and unending devotion to their memory
and to their cause. It requires the respect, the
honor, the glory they have so richly earned through
their sacrifice. And again, I’d ask that you
extend to these people who have laid upon the altar
the greatest sacrifice, the lives of their loved ones,
our overdue round of applause. [APPLAUSE] In James Michener’s book,
The Bridges at Toko-Ri, he writes of an officer
waiting through the night for the return of warplanes
to an aircraft carrier as dawn is coming on. And he asks simply, where
do we find such men? And I often ask myself a
somewhat similar question when I look out over an
assembly of gathered soldiers, particularly a
pre-deployment ceremony, where do we find such men? Where do we find such women? President Reagan really answered
the question when he said, we find them where
we’ve always found them. They are the product
of the freest society man has ever known. They make a commitment
to the military, make it freely,
because the birthright we share as Americans
is worth defending. At the Battle of Wanat,
we found them in places like Aiea, Hawaii,
Long Beach, California, in Snellville and
Jasper, Georgia, in Seattle, Washington,
in Clinton, Tennessee, in Haw River, North
Carolina, in Florissant, Missouri, and in
Morganfield, Kentucky, the hometowns of
the nine fallen, the names you heard
the Chief speak. But the names that can
never be spoken too often. Jonathan P. Brostrom, Israel
Garcia, Jonathan Ayers, Matthew B. Phillips, Jason
M. Bogar, Jason D. Hovater, Pruitt A. Rainey, Gunnar W.
Zwilling, and Sergio S. Abad. All of them in their
20s, the oldest 27, the youngest just 20. Brothers in arms. Men who lovingly served a cause
truly greater than themselves. Men who, as Ryan has said, truly
considered themselves a family, at times a dysfunctional
family, perhaps, just like, really, most
of our families. But as Ryan has
described, these men were committed to one another. They were committed to their
uncommon lives and equally their common challenge. And just like any true
family, love and trust laid at the heart of it all. Now, it might seem
odd to some to speak the words of love and
trust when recounting brave and bold actions of such
rough and tumble warriors. But make no mistake. Their love for each
other was real, even as it was in the midst
of indescribable chaos. To be sure, on the day
of the Wanat attack, Ryan Pitts was wearing
the KIA bracelet bearing the name of Sergeant First Class
Matthew Kahler, as you heard, a Platoon Sergeant
of the 2nd Platoon who had died just
months earlier. Ryan unabashedly
says that Kahler loved his soldiers, each
and every one of them, loved them like they
were his own kids. Of that, I have no doubt. At the height of
the Battle of Wanat, Specialist Michael Denton
and three other soldiers scrambled up the bullet-rocked
terraces of OP Topside to reinforce the position,
where, as the Chief told you, Ryan had been fighting
alone, fighting off the enemy single-handed. Ryan had no idea the
four were coming. The scene was awful,
Denton later recalled. He found the body of his best
bud, Specialist Jason Hovater, lying there lifeless. Denton said, I took ammo
from Hovater’s body, and I told him I loved him. He told him he loved him. Denton then went on to
man the machine gun. Moments later, after
another barrage of RPGs tore into the OP wounding
all five of the men, Sergeant Israel Garcia
laid mortally wounded. Ryan pulled his close
friend to him, his brother. And knowing there was
nothing he could do for him, he just laid there,
and he held his hand. We just talked for
a while, Ryan said. He told me he wanted me
to tell is mom and wife that he loved them. Ryan later honored
that commitment. So through all of the chaos,
through all of the destruction, we can truly see that love, even
in the face of such tragedy, bonds these men
and their families. And believe it or not, just
as it is on the home front, love and trust are
the foundations of this incredible
professional Army. Not surprisingly, today’s
soldiers trust each other. They trust the Army and
those who fill its ranks. And they also understand
the moral dimensions of war. I’ve heard the Chief speak
often about the issue of trust. It is, as he said, the backbone
of our professional Army. It’s what defines our
profession of arms. Ryan has said he trusted
everyone around him, that he’d follow his
officers anywhere, that he knew help would
come if humanly possible. He knew it because he
knew he would do the same. He trusted the skills
of the Apache pilots who flew in fire danger close
to his embattled position. Love and trust
abounds in this Army amongst the men and women
who wear the uniform. And we have men like the Chosen
few truly to thank for that. And we have perhaps, most
of all, as the President recounted yesterday, the
duty, the responsibility, to learn the hard lessons,
the inescapable lessons of that day to better
do our part to put forth every necessary, every
conceivable resource for our soldiers to provide
them, in equal measure, of the effort, the incredible
effort, of the love they so courageously bring
forward on behalf of this nation each and every
day no matter what the mission. Today, Ryan has a new
mission as a husband, father, and businessman. But he also remains
a devoted witness to the valor of others,
the valor of heroism, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and
audacity that he has taught all of us through his
extraordinary Army service. Those are things that are
now being taught by example to his son, to his
Nashua neighbors, to his civilian work
colleagues at Oracle. Ryan, by the way,
my staff recently spoke with the
president of Oracle. We told you we’d always
be checking up on you. The company’s
president, Mark Hurd, said, not surprisingly,
Ryan is a humble leader who is well-liked and
respected by his team. He has demonstrated leadership,
dedication, and commitment to excellence. And we are very proud to have
him as an Oracle employee. Some things never change, Ryan. We are so very proud
of all that you’ve accomplished both on
and off the battlefield. Competence, character,
they never grow old. But nothing is as important
to Ryan as the family that he and Amy are
raising up there in Nashua. As I mentioned, their
wonderful son Lucas is certainly testament to that. The bottle is finished, and
apparently Lucas has gone. [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHTER] But I’m sure that once
all of the whirlwind has settled down
a bit, they’ll be anxious to get back
to Nashua and back to their everyday lives. You know, I saw a
photograph of Ryan and Amy’s living room in some of
the recent press coverage and couldn’t help but
notice that on one wall there was a total
collage of family photos. And that wall was adorned with
the words, love, laugh, live. Ryan has said Lucas will grow up
knowing what his teammates did, that he will know their stories,
that he will know his daddy is here thanks to the love,
the laughter, and the lives of a few good and chosen
men, men and women like those who,
thanks be to God, still serve America’s Army. So Ryan, Amy, Luke, all
your family, God bless you. God bless the memories
and the families of our fallen and missing. God bless the United States
and this glorious Army that keeps her free. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Ladies and gentlemen, the
Deputy Secretary of Defense. Well, good morning, everyone. I must say that following
both General Odierno and Secretary McHugh are
two hard acts to follow. But Secretary McHugh, General
Odierno, General Sullivan, Sergeant Major
Chandler, distinguished members of Congress, Gold
Star Families, members of the Medal of Honor Society,
families of our veterans, and the men and women who
serve our country today in uniform, our
civilian employees, and in particular, our
very special guests here this morning, on behalf
of Secretary Hagel, I want to welcome and thank
you all again for being here today to honor the exceptional
heroism of Staff Sergeant Pitts. I must say I’ve been
fortunate in the first two months of being the
Deputy Secretary of being able to participate in three
Medal of Honor ceremonies and two in this hall with
the Army, with Kyle White. And I must say this is among the
most awesome things that I do and the things that
I most enjoy doing. Both Kyle White and
Staff Sergeant Pitts served in the same
company, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion of the
503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and
who is also here with us today. Not bad, Airborne, coming
from a Marine, not bad at all. [LAUGHTER] To all the members
of Chosen Company, past and present, and
here today, welcome. You truly are an impressive
bunch of soldiers. I want to also offer a special
welcome to Ryan’s family, his wife Amy, who I’ve just
had the pleasure of meeting, and their young son Lucas,
who, as the Secretary said, is out on his speaking tour now. His also extended family
who have joined us, welcome and thank
you all for the love and support that you have
provided to Ryan over the years and for helping mold this
extremely impressive soldier and man. Now, I know the
daunting challenges that all of the military
families face day in, day out. I was born into a
military family. And for more than a decade,
our military families have had to grapple
with being unsure that their loved ones would
return safe from deployment, and often repeated deployments. And the courage and
resilience that these families have displayed represents
the finest values of both the military
and our great country. Now, I cannot do any better than
General Odierno in describing the battle that compelled Ryan
Pitts to act above and beyond the call of duty. It is an account that is as
old as the American military. A combat outpost, holding
out against a fierce attack. Literally, a handful of American
troops facing down tough odds. American infantrymen,
Army paratroopers, surrounded and outnumbered. Now, all of those
of you in the Army know that the Airborne is
trained in this very mission, to drop behind enemy lines, to
be surrounded, to be cut off, and to rely only on each other. But Ryan takes his
place in our Hall of Heroes because of his actions
on that day in July, 2008. And it’s hard for me
not to get emotional. But he exemplifies the qualities
of the American soldier, to me, steadfast devotion to
duty, tenacity in a fight, and love and respect
for each other, as Secretary McHugh so
eloquently spoke about. The President, Secretary
McHugh, and General Odierno have already told
you about this fight. But I think all of
you need to take away is, there were a lot
of heroes that day, and Ryan Pitts was among
the most storied of them. Combat Outpost Kahler was an
isolated outpost, OP Topside, which you’ve heard about,
where Ryan Pitts fought, and where he held was
even more isolated. Now, so for most of the
troops in this longest war that our country
has ever fought, insurgents have generally
been just a shadowy foe. Their signature weapon is the
improved explosive device. They often fire from concealed
positions and melt away. They use mortar rounds. They snipe from a distance. But that wasn’t the case,
as General Odierno told you, at Wanat. It was close-quarters
combat against an enemy that was aggressively pushing
home its assault. They wanted, and they
outnumbered the outpost by who knows, maybe 10 to 1. And they were
hoping to overwhelm that outpost with sheer
numbers and volume of fire. And they came very
close to doing so. At one point during
the firefighting, an American soldier
shouted the warning, they’re inside the wire! And you could actually hear the
enemy talking over the radio that Ryan Pitts was using. The soldiers were
looking directly into the faces of
their combatants. This really is about
a battle of will, and our soldiers met the
enemy’s ferocity with their own. And just like their ancestors
displayed on the Pennsylvania farmland, on the Pacific
beaches and jungles, like the Airborne soldiers
at the Ardennes Forest, and in the highlands of
Vietnam, our soldiers prevailed. Wounded multiple
times, alternating between throwing grenades
and firing his weapon, calling in fire support,
radioing for reinforcements– and I have to say,
as an artilleryman, he’s an artilleryman, too. So this really makes me happy. But he continued to fight for
his brothers who lay around him and those who were still
alive and fighting the enemy. They truly are a close-knit
band of brothers. And because of what
Ryan did that day, the bodies of all
of the nine heroes that we’ve talked about today
were saved from enemy hands. If it hadn’t been for his
bravery and determination and those of all of them
fighting alongside him, the position most certainly
would have been overrun. That personal commitment
to bring our soldiers home, be they living or dead,
goes to the very spirit of our fighting men and women. Now, Ryan’s former Company
Commander, Matthew Myer, spoke to Ryan right
after the fight, and Ryan told him
that he thought that he was going to die. But he was going
to do everything he could to keep the
enemy away from the bodies of his comrades. So as Myer emphatically
recounted, when all looked lost Ryan’s actions
saved the day. He did not give up. You all saw the movie
Saving Private Ryan? This was saving Ryan’s
privates and all of the people around him. As we honor this fine
American, we also recognize the honor and service
and the sacrifice of those nine soldiers and all
the other soldiers of Chosen Company
who fought that day. And as Ryan said with
his customary modesty, I didn’t earn the
medal, we all earned it. We also honor the millions
of Americans who have served and continue to serve over
the past 12-plus years of war. This is the longest
period of prolonged combat in our history. I had the opportunity to travel
to Afghanistan recently and see some of these outstanding
young Americans who are putting their
lives on the line every day and to protect our nation. But I see in this fine soldier
and his brothers and sisters in arms, past and
present, members of the most amazing fighting
force this world has ever seen. Their dedication to duty
regardless of personal safety embodies the very
best traditions of the American military. This generation of America’s
fighting men and women have demonstrated by their
actions that they are, in fact, a truly
great generation. They stepped forward and
volunteered in the time of war knowing and often
hoping that they could go to combat and take
the fight to the enemy. All they asked for was the honor
of fighting for their country. And they gave us all they
had in return, their blood, their sweat, and sometimes,
unfortunately, their lives. And the price paid by
our service members in lives and wounds in this
long war has been steep. They have inspired in the
hearts of our countrymen a deep sense of
pride and patriotism. As Douglas MacArthur
so memorably told the West Point cadets in
his famous farewell speech, “From one end of the
world to the other, the American soldier has drained
deep the chalice of courage.” Now as these wars draw to
an end, millions of veterans will follow the example
of Ryan Pitts, Kyle White, and all the other
Medal of Honor winners, and all of the
other men and women who have served in our country
during this time of war. And they return to
civilian life like Ryan and lead meaningful
lives and contribute to their communities
and their companies. And having served the country
on the field of battle, this generation
of service members will continue to
work hard to change our country for the
better, whether they’re in or out of uniform. Ryan, you’ve brought great honor
upon yourself, your family, the United States Army,
and the entire nation. I know, as I did
with Kyle White, I think everyone knows that of
the millions of men and women who’ve served in
uniform, less than 4,000 have been awarded
the Medal of Honor. As is our custom, whenever they
walk into the room, regardless of your rank or position,
we stand and salute. As I did with Kyle
White, Ryan, I’d ask you to stand and
face the audience. And I’d ask everyone
in uniform and everyone who used to serve in uniform
to please stand and salute this great American hero. Hand salute. Thank you. Ryan, I can’t tell you
how proud I am of you, how Secretary Hagel is
proud of you, the President, all Americans, everyone
in this room, and everyone we represent. We are very grateful for
your bravery, your service, and your sacrifice. Thank you, Ryan, to all of
those who stood by you that day, to those who lost their lives,
to all of the soldiers who are here, and to all of the
soldiers around the globe who support our nation. May God bless you all. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] Secretary McHugh,
General Odierno, Sergeant Major of
the Army Chandler, and Staff Sergeant
and Mrs. Pitts will now join Deputy
Secretary Work on stage for the induction ceremony. The President of the
United States of America, authorized by act
of Congress, has awarded the name of
Congress the Medal of Honor to Sergeant
Ryan M. Pitts. He 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 Pitts was providing perimeter security
at Observation Post Topside, 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 hostiles 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 the while continually
lobbing 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 to 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
preventing the enemy from gaining fortified position
in 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 Charlie, 2nd Battalion Airborne, 503rd
Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and
the United States Army. [APPLAUSE] The War on Terrorism
plaque will now be unveiled, inducting Sergeant
Pitts into the Hall of Heroes. [APPLAUSE] At this time, Deputy
Secretary Work will present the
Medal of Honor Flag. On 23 October, 2002, Public
Law 107-248 Section 8143 established the
Medal of Honor Flag to recognize service members who
have distinguished themselves by gallantry in action above
and beyond the call of duty. The Medal of Honor Flag
commemorates the sacrifice and bloodshed for our
freedom and gives emphasis to the Medal of Honor being
the highest award for valor by any individual serving in
the Armed Forces of the United States. The light-blue color with gold
fringe bearing 13 white stars are adapted from the
Medal of Honor Ribbon. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Deputy Secretary
Work, Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, Sergeant
Major of the Army Chandler, and Mrs. Pitts. Ladies and gentleman,
Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts. [APPLAUSE] Deputy Defense Secretary
Work, Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, Sergeant Major
Chandler, members of Congress, distinguished DOD civilian
guests, general and flag officers, brothers and sisters
in arms, Gold Star Families, my family, ladies and
gentlemen, and my fellow Medal of Honor recipients,
good morning. And my lovely wife Amy,
I want to thank you for all your support. You’re an amazing
mom, wife, and woman. I love you. I stand here in awe of
the men I served with. Many of them are here today. It was the honor of my
life to answer the call and serve our country
alongside the men of Chosen Company, the Rock, and all
of its service members. There were many factors
that brought us together and motivated us to fight. For me, it was my love for
our country and dedication to my brothers. In my combat
experience, the latter is the one guiding principle
that carries us through battle. It was the men to
our left and right that compelled us to fight
with everything we had. There was an absolute duty
to be your brother’s keeper, a sentiment that I
think we all shared. My favorite quote that
embodied our dedication is ironically captured
in a brief passage from Steven Pressfield’s
The Afghan Campaign. It reads, “Of one
thing I’m certain. I will die before I
let harm come to him. The shaft that impales him must
first pass through my flesh.” I saw the greatest men I
have ever known personify this passage, men
who placed themselves between us and the enemy
to protect and defend their brothers. Our fallen exemplified
this most greatly as they fought to
their last breaths to ensure the rest of
us could return home. They are the real heroes, and it
is their names you should know. Specialist Sergio Abad, Corporal
Jonathan Ayers, Corporal Jason Bogar, First Lieutenant
Jonathan Brostrom, Sergeant Israel Garcia,
Corporal Jason Hovater, Corporal Matthew Phillips,
Corporal Pruitt Rainey, and Corporal Gunnar Zwilling. These men and so many others
displayed extraordinary acts of valor that day. No one man carried the fight. We did it together. Chavez was shot through
both legs helping pull a mortally-wounded
Abad to cover. Davis, Krupa, Hamby,
Myer, [INAUDIBLE], and Santiago manned
critically-important weapon systems that were heavily
targeted by the enemy. Many men, including
Sones and Myer, exposed themselves
to direct enemy fire to reload these
weapon systems that were so important
to our defense. One man picked up an
unexploded missile that landed in a
fighting position after being ejected from
a destroyed vehicle. He ran the missile into
the open so soldiers could continue to
occupy the position, in the process exposing
himself to direct enemy fire. Denton stood and returned
fire despite being wounded in both legs and his
dominant right hand because he had to
continue fighting. Bogar returned
fire, stopping only to apply medical
aid to me and others before returning to the fight. In the beginning
moments of the fight, Matt Phillips
immediately returned fire and threw a hand grenade
to engage the enemy and repel their assault. Ayers was heavily targeted,
while continuously firing his machine gun in the face of
an overwhelming volume of enemy fire despite already
being struck in the helmet by an enemy around. Lieutenant Brostrom and Hovater
braved withering enemy fire, covering more than 100 meters
to help reinforce and defend OP Topside. Rainey helped manage
the fight at OP Topside, distributing ammo and
shifting weapon systems. And the second wave of
reinforcements, Sameroo, Garcia, Denton, and Sones
maneuvered to save my life and defend OP Topside, where
four paratroopers had been wounded and where Ayers, Bogar,
Lieutenant Brostrom, Hovater, Phillips, Rainey,
and Zwilling had given their lives
in our defense. They came to help me despite
the danger to their own lives. Saving my life cost
Garcia his own. You must ask yourself,
how do these men do it? Or what compelled them
to take these actions? Again, we return to our
dedication to our brothers. We were a family
whose bonds were forged in the fires of combat. Our brothers’ lives were
more important than our own. If they were in a fight,
then we wanted to be there. They would never stand alone. I’ve seen so much valor
displayed by my brothers that I cannot even begin to scratch
the surface in the short time I have today. Rather, I will spend a
lifetime telling their stories to honor their heroic deeds. This is a responsibility
that accompanies the award, a responsibility
that has been easier to accept knowing
that the award belongs to every man I fought alongside. While the Medal of Honor is
awarded to an individual, it has felt like anything but
an individual achievement. It is ours, not mine. I will wear it for
everyone there that day, especially those we
couldn’t bring home. The Medal represents
our sacrifices and those of every service member,
and it will forever serve as a memorial
to the fallen. I will never view
myself as a recipient, but always as a caretaker. The word “hero” often
accompanies the award. I don’t care for the term. I never have. It is a distinction
I have always felt was reserved for those that
make the ultimate sacrifice. However, I am humbled and
honored to look at my brothers and see men I consider
my personal heroes, men I look up to. To every man who fought
that day, every man who came to our aid, every
leader and peer I ever had, it has been the honor of
my life to serve and fight alongside you and all
the brothers we lost. My family and I cannot thank
you enough for all you have done for me and our country. I owe you a debt
I can never repay. I honor you. Please stand and be recognized. [APPLAUSE] To the families and loved ones
of Sergio Abad, Jonathan Ayers, Jason Bogar, Jonathan Brostrom,
Israel Garcia, Jason Hovater, Matthew Phillips, Pruitt
Rainey, and Gunnar Zwilling, I have thought about them and
their sacrifices every day. I will for the rest of my life. And I am not alone. You raised, molded, and
loved incredible men. Many of the men
present in this room are here because
of their actions, actions that changed
the course of history for us, actions that gave the
rest of us a second chance. My son Lucas exists
because of them, as do many other men’s children. I promise that my
son will grow up appreciating the sacrifices
of men he never knew. I miss them dearly,
but it is awe-inspiring that such men lived. They were professionals. They were warriors. Thank you, Chosen Few, the Rock. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Staff Sergeant Pitts. Ladies and gentlemen,
please stand and join in the singing of the Army song. The words to the Army song
can be found in your program. [MUSIC – “THE ARMY GOES ROLLING
ALONG”] Ladies and gentlemen,
please pause for a moment at your seats to allow
the official party to exit the auditorium.

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