Hall of Heroes Ceremony: Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins

– [Announcer] Good morning
ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Medal of
Honor Induction Ceremony in honor of Staff
Sergeant Travis W. Atkins. Staff Sergeant Atkins was
presented posthumously 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, performing the duties of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the honorable David L. Norquist. The Secretary of the Army, the honorable Mark T. Esper. The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General James C. McConville. And the Sergeant Major of the Army, Daniel A. Dailey. Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the arrival of the Official Party and remain standing for the singing of our national anthem by Staff Sergeant Matthew Richardson and the invocation, delivered by Chaplain Thomas Solhjem. ♪ Oh, say can you see ♪ ♪ By the dawn’s early light ♪ ♪ What so proudly we hailed ♪ ♪ At the twilight’s last gleaming ♪ ♪ Whose broad stripes and bright stars ♪ ♪ Through the perilous fight ♪ ♪ O’er the ramparts we watched ♪ ♪ Were so gallantly streaming ♪ ♪ And the rocket’s red glare ♪ ♪ The bombs bursting in air ♪ ♪ Gave proof through the night ♪ ♪ That our flag was still there ♪ ♪ Oh say does that
star-spangled banner yet wave ♪ ♪ O’er the land of the free ♪ ♪ And the home of the brave ♪ – Ceremony in prayer. I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and Earth. The Lord will watch over
your coming and going both now and forever more. Loving God, as you watch over us, we express our thanks for the sentinels in uniform who protect and defend our freedoms and way of
life at home and abroad. Today, we specifically give thanks for Staff Sergeant Travis
Atkins, a sentinel, now enshrined in our
nation’s pantheon of heroes, who’s honor and course shown brightly in his final sacrifice
for life and freedom. A warrior of determination and commitment, his selfless actions reveal a character molded and shaped by faith, his family, his friends,
a disciplined life and a selfless devotion to duty. As we look to you, enable us all to serve with the same determination as our Army continues to lift high the lamp of liberty in the dark corners of the world. I pray these things in your holy, mighty and majestic name Lord, amen. – [Announcer] Please be seated. Ladies and gentlemen, General McConville. (applauding) – Well, good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining us this morning as we pay tribute to a true American hero, Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins. I’d like to welcome our acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Norquist. Our Secretary, Dr. Esper. Vice Chairman, General Selva. Sergeant Major of the
Army and Mrs. Dailey, thank you all for being here, makes it very very special. But what I really want to offer a special welcome this
morning to Travis’s family. Trevor, his son, is here, did a great job at the
White House yesterday, wonderful job. And his parents, Jack and Elaine. Jack is an Army Veteran and also a Vietnam Veteran, so sir, thank you for your service. You set a great example for your son. Also want to welcome Travis’s extended family and friends, as well as the Army
family that’s here today as we go forward. With the presentation
of the Medal of Honor yesterday at the White House, Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins joins a small fraternity of service men who have distinguished themselves through their uncommon valor, extraordinary courage
and conspicuous gallantry beyond the call of duty and under extraordinary circumstances. We are honored to have one other Medal of Honor recipient with us today, that’s General Foley,
sir can you please stand so we can recognize your service? (applauding) Thank you sir. And as we honor Travis’s heroic actions, we can take some measure of comfort in knowing that in giving his life Travis saved the lives of three soldiers who were there with him that day. And I’d like to recognize Michael Kistle, Travis Robishar, and Sand Aijo. Can you please stand up
if you’re here today. Give a hand. I’d also like the rest of the team that was here, please
stand up if you could, I know a few of the other soldiers that were here on that day, could you stand up too? Come on stand up. All right, give them a hand too. Great day for you all.
(applauding) Really appreciate you all being here. Thank you for your incredible service. Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins was the ideal soldier. Exactly the type of person every infantry commander wants in their formation. He was born in Great Falls, Montana and Travis moved with his
parents, Jack and Elaine, to Bozeman when he was a young boy. Now Bozeman’s a rural place and it’s a long distance
from any major city. It’s a place full of wide open spaces and outdoor activities. Growing up in Bozeman, before he ever joined the Army, Travis was an outdoorsman. Not only did he love to hunt, fish, snowmobile and go camping, but he also could use a compass and he felt very comfortable wandering around in the woods. When he wasn’t hunting and fishing Travis like to play Army
with his sister, Jennifer. And here’s the thing, have you ever noticed that kids play Army? They never play Navy
(laughing) and they never play Air Force! I don’t know, just saying. (applauding and cheering) And Travis’s leadership skills were apparent even at that young age. So when they played Army, Travis was always a General and his sister, Jennifer,
was always the Private. (laughing) Travis joined the Army in November 2000 and immediately found his niche. He was able to put his leadership and outdoor skills to good use. He deployed with the
101st Airborne Division, the division that I’m very fond of, and he fought in the
initial invasion of Iraq. He left the Army after
the first deployment, went off to school, but then he decided he
needed to come back, so he reenlisted and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion,
14th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Brigade of the
10th Mountain Division and we have the Commander
and Sergeant Major here today of the 10th Mountain, and we have General
Oates and Barbara Oates, who commanded during that time. So it’s great to have you here, how ’bout a hand for them? (applauding) Iraq in 2007 was an incredibly dangerous and volatile place, the
surge had just begun. Sectarian Divisions fueled
unprecedented levels of violence throughout the country. Improvised explosive
devices were at their peak and Travis was on his 2nd tour in Iraq as a Squad Leader. His squad was conducting
a route security mission near what had previously been farmland, but now, was one of Al
Qaeda’s stronghold’s. And on June 1st, 2007, a Friday, we found Travis’s squad
on a dusty dirt road that was frequently beset with IED’s. When soldiers saw two suspected insurgents trying to cross the route they were tasked to secure, they yelled at the individuals. The individuals began to act erratically, acknowledging the soldier’s commands but also looking as they
might try to escape. Travis immediately took
charge of the situation. He moved his vehicle to the individuals
location and dismounted. He intended to stop and
search the individuals but when he reached them,
one of the insurgents began to resist and fight Travis. Today’s war is sometimes
thought to be cold, distance fights, where the extended ranges or our rifles or our artillery in our unmanned aerial systems make warfare detached and impersonal. But on that day, it wasn’t and what Travis
experienced is what war is, a gritty, personal experience, fought not from miles away, but from the squad level and at
the individual level. Realizing that the individual he detained had explosives hidden
underneath his clothes, Travis did not retreat and he did not call for help. Recognizing the danger that he and his men were in, Travis bravely engaged
in hand to hand combat. Trying with all his strength to keep the insurgent from reaching the detonator to his suicide vest. But as the hand to hand combat continued, the insurgent was able to reach the suicide vest under his clothing, Travis threw him to the ground and because of his actions he saved the lives of the three soldiers who were with him. That self sacrifice and action is what we call uncommon valor. Travis thought only of
the lives of his men. He did what he knew had to be done and he sacrificed himself, his dreams, his goals, his aspirations, and his future so others could fulfill theirs. His actions and his
leadership saved lives. And I don’t think anyone
could better summarize Travis’s heroic story better than Travis’s mother, Elaine. She said, Travis loved the Army. He loved being with his troops and he did the very best he could. He did the very best he could. We’re all humbled and inspired by his actions and his legacy. Thank you for joining us this morning and please help me welcome the Secretary of the Army, Dr. Esper. (applauding) – Well, thank you General McConville for those fantastic remarks. First, let me welcome
all the distinguished guests that are here
today who have joined us for this long overdue recognition. And a special welcome, of course, to the parents of Staff Sergeant Atkins, Jack and Elaine, it’s been a pleasure getting to know you these past couple days and to really having a chance to share some stories with you this morning about Travis’s youth and maybe we’ll talk a
little bit about that. As well as Travis’s son, all of whom Trevor who have traveled from Montana, thank you both for being here, it was really great to
be with y’all yesterday at the White House ceremony, Trevor you did a great job on the spot. And really again, to speak with you all about Travis’s life. Trevor we are honored to have you in attendance today to
represent your father. The stories you’ve told,
your remarks yesterday, I’m sure it’s a moment of both pride and sadness for you, but your remarks about being around the soldiers that he served with and
the stories they told made you feel so much more closer to them and to your father, so thank you for sharing that with all of us. And thank you for sharing your father with our country. I also want to welcome
Travis’s other family members and friends who are in attendance, as well as many of his battle buddies who fought alongside Travis. So a shout out to the 10th Mountain, climb to glory. – [Audience Member] To the top! – We’ve all come here today to pay tribute to Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins who’s actions on June 1st, 2007 are fully deserving of
the nation’s highest and most prestigious military decoration awarded for acts of valor. His heroic actions that day, as just recounted by General McConville, leave no doubt that Staff Sergeant Atkins acted with one purpose during those trying moments, to save the lives of his soldiers. Today, Travis joins a select group who have demonstrated the willingness to go beyond the call of duty when the nation needed them most, and we have two of them
serving here today. Thank you sir as well. Today, we are proud
and humbled to have had a non commissioned officer of his stature among our ranks. Travis was the type of person who was destined to be a soldier. A native of Montana, much of Travis’s youth
was spent in the outdoors, hunting, and fishing
and camping and skiing, and sometimes, as Jack told us, his son was prone to steal snowmobiles and take them out on his own. Travis was also an
expert shot with a rifle and a natural at land navigation. And in many ways, a natural soldier in his cleverness. Elaine shared with us a short while ago that, I think you told us when he was in first grade, your expectation was that he would, before he went to school each day he would make his bed, and that worked well for a few days and she was tryin’ to figure out, why was he making his bed? Apparently it took you about a week to figure out that he was actually not getting inside his bed but pulling out his sleeping bag and sleeping on top of this bed everyday and throwing it back into the closet. Which is a typical soldier thing, for those of us who’ve
had that experience. But he figured that out at age six. But that’s a wonderful story, it tells you a lot about the type of person Travis was. Often times, when Travis and Jack would go hunting, Travis was known to split off at first daylight to explore the vast Montana landscape. Only to rejoin his father later in the day after successfully harvesting his game. Travis was an expert shot, and something that Trevor shared with us, that he’s inherited as well, and so again, a natural soldier. Although his parents never pushed him to join the service, Travis was drawn to the military. On November 9th, 2000 Travis enlisted in the Army as an infantry man and deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. Following the end of this
first enlistment term, Travis returned to Montana and re-entered civilian life, he enrolled in college and worked part time painting homes and pouring concrete. But as his father described, civilian life just didn’t do it for him. He had to get back in the Army. Jack, an army veteran himself, encouraged Travis to pursue another career within the Army, for he had surely done his share of time on the front lines. But Travis was insistent that the infantry was the right place for him. So in December of 2005, fully aware that he would once again be sent to fight for his country, Travis, for a second time, answered the call to serve. Within months of reenlisting in the Army Staff Sergeant Atkins was back in Iraq. Now, serving as a squad leader, Travis was known as a quiet professional who had the upmost concern for those serving under his charge. In fact, it’s no surprise, as Jack relayed to us, on many of their trips together, his father would talk to him about what it meant to
command and lead soldiers, and how you take care of your soldiers and protect them. This is what Travis lived. As one of Travis’s
former company commanders once remarked, these are
some men who just know they need to be wearing stripes. Down in the dirt with the guys and he was one of them. Having already survived
two roadside bombs, Travis grew accustomed to the emerging insurgent tactics and his soldiers looked to him for guidance, especially when the situation grew tense. A natural leader, Travis was quick to act under pressure and his soldiers, completely trusting his abilities, were as quick to respond
to Travis’s direction. But on June 1st, 2007, there would be no time for orders. When Travis instinctively sensed that his patrol was within the kill zone of a suicide attack he
acted without hesitation. A common man would’ve succumbed to the very human instinct to seek cover. But driven by a natural reflex of self preservation, even
the bravest of us all, would’ve likely tried to get away. But given the proximity of the bomber to his men, this would’ve surely resulted in the loss of several lives. And as one of his squad
mates told me yesterday, many, many more might have been lost if not for his action. So instead, Travis took the only action that would save the lives of his soldiers and others, and in doing so, guaranteed that his
own life would be lost, would be sacrificed to a greater cause. Through this act of incredible courage and heroism, Travis Atkins’ legacy will live on forever. In 2013, the Atkins
Functional Fitness Facility was dedicated at Fort Drum, New York, in a ceremony attended by Jack and Elaine. A fitting tribute, as Travis loved physical training. At the headquarters of
Travis’ former unit, the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, a memorial to Staff Sergeant Atkins is located in the main entrance. Serving as inspiration for those soldiers who follow in his footsteps. And right now, members of that battalion are once again deployed defending our great nation. Travis’s courage, sacrifice and commitment to a cause greater than himself remain, I’m sure, at the forefront of their minds, as they perform their duties today. And today, and perhaps
the most fitting tribute, we will induct Travis
into the Hall of Heroes, where he joins a group
of seemingly ordinary men who perform extraordinarily, and extraordinary acts of courage under the most difficult of conditions. A group of men who rose to the occasion during the most trying of times. Today, Travis takes his rightful place amongst that elite group who’s names adorn the
walls of that sacred hall. It’s a privilege for me to be part of this ceremony as we honor the bravery of this incredible hero. Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins exemplifies all that is great about our Army and our nation. His commitment to his country and to his brothers in arms serves as a lasting example that will inspire soldiers for generations to come, thank you. (applauding) – [Announcer] Ladies and
gentlemen, Mr. Norquist. – Thank you Secretary Esper, distinguished guests,
ladies and gentlemen, friends and family, welcome and thank you for being here today to welcome Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins to his rightful place
in the Hall of Heroes. I also want to offer a special welcome to the many soldiers
that served with Travis along with his father
Jack, an Army Veteran, his mother Elaine, and his son Trevor, who I was lucky enough to spend some time with this morning. It is an honor to be with you all today. Thank you for your
service and the sacrifices you have made for our nation. Today is special, because today we reflect on the true meaning of courage, service, and selflessness, and honor a rare person who embodied them. There are many valorous stories of combat, but the Medal of Honor is special. It is awarded only to
the bravest among us. Staff Sergeant Atkins is one of them. We may use the term hero all the time but there are heroes among the heroes, and they are very rare. Since the Medal of
Honor’s creation in 1861, of the tens of millions who have served in the U.S. military, less than 3,600 medals have been awarded. Each after painstaking deliberation and consideration. These are people, who, when presented with the option, chose
others over themselves. This award is about
offering these special souls our reverence as a
nation and as a military and ensuring that the best among us, their bravery, their sacrifice, and their selflessness
are never forgotten. Where does that courage and selflessness come from, we often ask ourselves. It comes from a commitment to others and to the mission. For Travis, a curious, self directed, adventurous kid who loved everything from hunting and fishing to heavy metal, Schubert, and Johnny Cash, civilian life just didn’t do it for him, according to his father,
he was looking for more. In the military’s where he found it. A world he loved so much that he even called basic training the best thing he had ever done. Hardcore. Through service, Travis found a calling, a sense of purpose and a community that he was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to defend. As his fellow soldiers have described him, he was a strong, decisive leader, who instinctively knew when to act and the right way to do it. He was a leader with enormous courage and a strong sense of loyalty to his team. As they tell it, it was
his emotional stamina and abiding belief that they would be able to confront whatever challenge they would encounter, that gave others the confidence they needed to accomplish the mission. He loved his soldiers and they loved him. As his father said, superior officers had talked to him about
going from green to gold and he considered it, but he really liked being out there in the field with his men and he didn’t want to give that up. As his parents recounted, Travis thought a lot about those in his charge, coaching them, helping them grow, and teaching them how
to protect themselves and complete the mission. He also inspired them to be better leaders and better people. As Roberto put it, Travis’s legacy has solidified who I have become and what I do and give to others. His willingness to sacrifice his life to protect those around him is fundamentally why we are all here, to protect each other and
to protect our nation. We may spend a lot of time talking about weapon systems,
technologies, and doctrine, but our most important asset is the individual Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine because when the rubber meets the road at the tip of the spear, it all comes down to the
individual men and women, their bravery, courage, professionalism, sense of duty and selflessness, all of which was so remarkably exhibited by this great American. War has always been a human endeavor and it is people like Travis that give us faith in our future. His actions resonate
across time and place, inspiring us and fortifying our trust in ourselves, in our humanity, in our military, and in our nation. Our nation is forever indebted to him and this medal reflects
the American people’s understanding of a certain paradox. We only become truly great when we make ourselves
the servants of others. Travis was a truly great man. Jack, Elaine, and Trevor, your son and father is the very definition of servant and hero. This nation is proud to
call him one of our own. Thank you. (applauding) – [Announcer] Secretary Esper, General McConville, Sergeant Major of the Army Dailey, Mr. Trevor Oliver, son of Staff Sergeant Atkins, and Mr. and Mrs. John Atkins, parents of Staff Sergeant
Atkins will now join Mr. Norquist on stage for
the induction ceremony. Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated
during the presentations. 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 Staff Sergeant Travis W. Atkins, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty. Staff Sergeant Travis W. Atkins distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity, above and beyond the call of duty on one June, 2007, while serving in the
position of Squad Leader with Company D, 2D Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2D Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While manning a static observation post in the town of Abu Samak, Iraq, Staff Sergeant Atkins was notified that four suspicious individuals, walking in two pairs, were crossing an intersection not far from his position. Staff Sergeant Atkins
immediately moved his squad to interdict the individuals. One of the individuals began behaving erratically, prompting
Staff Sergeant Atkins to disembark from his patrol vehicle and approach to conduct a search. Both individuals responded belligerently toward Staff Sergeant
Atkins who then engaged the individual he had intended to search in hand to hand combat. Staff Sergeant Atkins tried to wrestle the insurgents arms behind his back when he noticed the insurgent was reaching for something under his clothes. Staff Sergeant Atkins
immediately wrapped him in a bear hug and threw him to the ground, away from his fellow soldiers. Staff Sergeant Atkins maintained his hold on the insurgent, placing
his body on top of him, further sheltering his patrol. With Staff Sergeant Atkins on top of him, the insurgent detonated a bomb strapped to his body, killing
Staff Sergeant Atkins. Staff Sergeant Atkins acted with complete disregard for his own safety. In this critical and
selfless act of valor, Staff Sergeant Atkins saved the lives of the three other
soldiers who were with him and gallantly gave his
life for his country. Staff Sergeant Atkins’ undaunted courage, warrior spirit, and
steadfast devotion to duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 2D Brigade Combat Team and the United States Army. (applauding) At this time, the Medal of Honor Flag will be presented. 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 gallantly in action, above and beyond the call of duty. The Medal of Honor Flag commemorates the sacrifice and
bloodshed for our freedoms and gives emphasis to the Medal of Honor, being the highest award for valor by an 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. (applauding) The Medal of Honor Plaque
will now be unveiled inducting Staff Sergeant Atkins into the Hall of Heroes. (applauding) Thank you Mr. Norquist, Secretary Esper, General McConville, Sergeant Major Dailey and Mrs. Atkins. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Trevor Oliver accompanied by his
grandfather, Mr. Jack Atkins. (applauding) – Good morning and thank you to everyone who has spoken before me today, everyone down here in front, I can’t thank you enough for making it easier on me.
(laughing) General McConville, especially, thank you very much. Secretary Esper, again, meeting you today was a tremendous honor and I’m very happy I got
to have a conversation with you as well as Norquist as well, I appreciate our
conversation we had as well, it was very sweet. Thank you to all of my
father’s fellow soldiers. Anyone who even knew of him to an extent, your kind words over this week and over the entire time
since you’ve known me, they’ve made it very very easy on me and made it very easy
for me to get over this and make me feel at home and make me feel like
a family with you guys. You mean the world to me and I hope you guys know that. Let’s see, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with my Dad,
it was a shorter time but it was a very, very valuable time. He taught me just about everything that he could about the outdoors, whether it be hunting, fishing, he was a very outdoorsy guy and he made sure I took that with me. Most of my time with him were during our visits in Montana. I would go out there about twice a year, during the summer and during the winter, and we would get up to
all sorts of trouble, whether it was the winter snowmobiling or going out and shooting gophers, something like that. We loved spending time
out in the wilderness and just with each other, it was an incredible time with him. We loved shooting ranges, we loved target practice, I still would say today I’m a better shot than him.
(laughing) He was an incredible marksman and he taught me everything
I know about rifles and safety and he was an incredible, incredible inspiration
when it came to that. Like I said, during our winter, we would snowmobile and go out into the mountains to places that no one else sees with
the places we would go. We would climb things that we were not supposed to be climbing
on our snowmobiles, and going places that a lot of people would not go and he was
a total adrenaline junkie when it came to the snowmobile. He loved going way to fast on that thing. The snowmobile I have as well, it was his before he passed away. I can’t tell you how long he spent on that thing but he would spend way too much time making that thing go faster than it was supposed to. (laughing) So yeah, as a little kid, if I would get on that thing and put it straight down it would flip you straight back, so it’s not a toy.
(laughing) Those were the most precious memories I have of him, the winter and the snowmobiling memories, those were the ones that I remember the most out of everything. It’s funny how those memories stick. We left him in a snowbank, he was way too far up,
we couldn’t get to him, so we left him out there and he dug himself up and he came to the Meadow Creek Lodge, which is a restaurant you can only get to by snowmobiling, and he came in, black, blue and purple and shaking and all he could muster
up to say was coffee. (laughing) And that’s what I always remember, he was always able to do it himself and he was a very independent
and strong person. And that’s something I try to take with me everyday and I hope I emulate a little bit of him out here today ’cause that’s what I’m trying. Yeah, he was an absolute funny, sweet, amazing guy. He was hard, he was a
very tough, tough man but the funniest, the sweetest, and loving, passionate person out there. He could make the whole room laugh just by walkin’ in and smiling, that’s the kind of person he was. He was an absolute loving and caring man. Travis’ took pride in
being an amazing father and being an amazing soldier. Being a soldier was his life and he was the blueprint
of an amazing soldier. And I thank him for that and I’m eternally thankful for him. Thank you everybody, thank you. (applauding) – [Announcer] Thank you
Mr. Oliver and Mr. Atkins. Ladies and gentlemen,
please remain standing and join in the singing of the Army Song, the words to the Army Song can be found in your program. ♪ March along ♪ ♪ Sing our song ♪ ♪ With the Army of the free ♪ ♪ Count the brave ♪ ♪ Count the true ♪ ♪ Who have fought to victory ♪ ♪ We’re the Army and proud of our name ♪ ♪ We’re the Army and proudly proclaim ♪ ♪ First to fight for the right ♪ ♪ And to build the nation’s might ♪ ♪ And the Army goes rolling along ♪ ♪ Proud of all we have done ♪ ♪ Fighting till the battle’s won ♪ ♪ And the Army goes rolling along ♪ ♪ Then it’s hi hi hey ♪ ♪ The Army’s on its way ♪ ♪ Count off the cadence loud and strong ♪ ♪ For where e’er we go ♪ ♪ You will always know ♪ ♪ That the Army goes rolling along ♪ – [Announcer] Ladies and gentlemen, please pause for a moment at your seats to allow the Official Party and Staff Sergeant Atkins’ family to exit the auditorium.

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