Ryan Pitts Medal of Honor Press Conference

Ryan Pitts Medal of Honor Press Conference


Good morning. Thank you all for coming
today and for your interest in our story. I would like to say
a few words and then open the floor for questions. While it is an honor to have
been nominated for the award, it is not mine alone. The honor belongs to every man
who fought at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler,
especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice
allowing the rest of us to return home. I have an absolute
responsibility to tell our story because there are
nine men who cannot and it is their names that
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. We all answered the
call, and chosen company became our families. We were dedicated to each other. The life of the
man next to you was more important than
your own, which is most greatly
exemplified by the fall. I reflect on the courage
displayed that day, and I am in awe of
the men I served with. Corporal Bogar only
stopped returning fire to treat casualties,
myself included. Lieutenant Brostrom
and Corporal Hovater braved direct enemy fire to
reinforce OP topside, an act Sergeant Samaroo, Sergeant
Garcia, Specialist Denton, and Specialist
Sones would repeat. Sergeant Chavez was
shot through both legs as he helped pull a
mortally-wounded Specialist Abad to cover. Corporal Ayers was struck in
the helmet by an enemy round and continued to man a
machine gun until the end because we needed it. Specialist Scantlin moved
around the battlefield, treating casualties, after all
the medics had been wounded. Captain Seipel and Chief Hill
landed their medevac helicopter between OP topside
and the enemy. Sergeant Kinney departed
that bird to help casualties. Private First Class
Krupa, Specialist Hamby, Sergeant Santiago,
and many others returned fire from gun trucks
despite accurate incoming RPG fire, which destroyed
the tow missile truck. And there’s so much more. I view the Medal of
Honor as an award it into an individual
that represents our collective efforts. Valor was everywhere, we
carried the day together. To me, the Medal
represents the sacrifices of our team, and
all service members, and is a memorial
to all those who have laid down their
lives for our country. I owe it to them to live a
life worthy of their sacrifice. I would now like
take your questions. Thank you. You mentioned that these
men who served with you were your family. You felt there were a family. Why is that so? Combat creates bonds like
I’ve never seen before, and after 14 months
in combat, we just got to know each other so well. We could tell who we were,
we could tell our friends in the dark, just by the
way that they walked. And we were ready to lay down
our lives for each other. Honor to meet you. Is this with you all the time? I mean, obviously you are
no longer in the service. You’re living what we would
call a civilian life now. Is it with you all the time? Cam you move beyond
it, or do you even want to not stop
thinking about it? How does it stay with
you in your life? I’ve thought about
every day since July 13. I don’t want to forget about it. I think I’ve learned
to manage it, but I take comfort somehow
in the pain of that loss, because it reminds me they
meant something to me, and I never want to forget that. And I appreciate the
sacrifices they made for us. Sergeant, we’ve seen
the descriptions of the action that day. I’m interested in what
was going on in your mind. How do you prepare
yourself mentally for that kind of
situation, and what’s the thought process as
you’re experiencing it? I don’t know as if there’s much
to mentally prepare yourself beyond the training and
the bonds that we have. Going through my head
that day was just I needed to do what
needed to be done, just like every other man. Everybody was doing
what they could in fact the battle,
because it was a needed. Sergeant, can you talk a
little bit about life today and what you’ve been
up to since that time. I graduated college from
University of New Hampshire last spring. I have a one-year-old son
and a two year wedding anniversary coming
up next month. There’s a lot of
guys that that’s the path they’ve followed. It’s great to look
around and see my friends going home and
enjoying their lives. And there are many that
continued to serve. And I have a lot of
respect for them. You were hit in your chest,
both legs, and an arm. Tell us first, what
the pain was like, and how you found
the ability to go on. There wasn’t any pain at first. It was just shock,
and when I crawled to the southern
fighting position and saw Bogar returning
fire, and raining, and everybody else
running around, doing what needed to be done–
and the volume of fire coming in– for me I just
knew I had to participate. I had to do what
I could help out. I couldn’t just sit there
and let them bear the burden. Your face really lit
up when you talked about your one-year-old son. Would you be OK if he
entered the military? I want that to be his decision. I’ll be very proud if he
chooses– I would love that. But I want him to
follow his own path. I hope that he believes
and understands that, as an American, he has
a duty to defend his country. But I’ll be happy
with whatever path he follows as long as
it’s making him happy. The place you stationed
in Afghanistan, it sounded like the most
remote, dangerous spot on the Earth from some of
the descriptions that I read. Do you ever, in being out of the
military for the short period of time now– do you think
back to the importance of the mission and question
it in any way, the mission in Afghanistan? I’ve never questioned
the mission. My mission was to
defend our country and execute our
commander’s intent. And I’m comfortable with that. There was also that
dramatic moment in the story where one of your
comrades is dying. Most of us just seen
that in the movies. Somebody’s mortally
wounded, they’re lying there and they’re actually able to
talk, and to tell somebody to convey a message. Could you describe that
again so if you don’t mind? It was Sergeant Israel Garcia. He was severely wounded. I remember very clearly. It was all I can
do to comfort him was to just– there
wasn’t anything we could do for him, other
than for me to give him the guarantee that I would
come home and tell his wife and mom that he loved them. He was thinking of
them has last moments. I know you were injured as well. Were you aware of how badly you
were hurt while you were trying to fight back,
and would you mind speaking to the
efforts of the men they came to help aid you afterwards? I wasn’t certain how
serious my injuries were. I knew we wanted to get a
tourniquet on my right leg. Bogar put that on my right
leg, just because– the worry, the concern that I might have
hit a major blood vessel. But Lieutenant Brostrom and
Corporal Hovater, they really did break direct enemy fire. They ran through the
center of the village to reinforce the OP. And I honestly don’t
know how they made it. And then even later
when a number of men had already been killed
and wounded at the OP, Sergeant Sam, Sergeant Garcia,
Denton and Sones still came. And even after that wave,
there were more guys towards the end
of my time there– before I was medevaced– that
the guys were just pouring up to the OP to reinforce
and do what they could. To people haven’t
heard and specifically what occurred that day, can you
describe the sequence of events and what went through your
mind as events unfolded? I mean honestly, it’s a
blur from the beginning of the fight, from that
opening first to being wounded. It was just every man fighting
with everything they had. And then finally the
Apaches, our first platoon, was able to get there. The tide seemed
to start to turn. And please describe
the reaction when you heard that you were to be
honored with a Medal of Honor. When I first heard it–
that it had been upgraded a number of years ago–
I wasn’t happy about it, never felt that I deserved it. But since then I’ve accepted
the fact that this isn’t mine. It belongs to
everybody who was there that day, because
we did it together. I didn’t do any more
than anybody else. It was a report that there
were some soldiers who were reprimanded that
were under attack. Is there truth to that? Was the military
revised their opinion of what went on that day? Those letters of
reprimand rescinded for Colonel William Ostlund
and Major Matt Myer. And I have complete confidence
in their leadership ability. And I would follow
them anywhere. The United States is
pulling out of Afghanistan, and I’m sure you read the papers
and you know that we pulled out of Iraq and now that country
is headed toward civil war. Do you worry that might
happen in Afghanistan? If you had the ear
of the President, what would you tell him to do? Those are certainly questions
probably better directed to the Department of Defense. And I was in the tactical level. Those things were really
things I thought about. It’s an easy question
but a hard question. Were you ever scared? I know for myself
and I would probably venture to say this is the
same for many other soldiers and service members, that my
two biggest fears were always said I would let down my
buddies or that one of them would be hurt. Now I would say that day
wasn’t very different. First an easy one Sergeant,
what’s your son’s name? My son’s name is Lucas. Lucas. Is that L-U-C-A-S or K-A-S? C. C-A-S. Secondly, how have you changed
since 2008, since July, 2008? I don’t know as if
I have that much. I think the biggest
thing that’s changed is, I know that I’ve
been given a gift, and I think I have an
appreciation of life that I probably
didn’t have before. And know now that I’m going
to live my life for those that aren’t here because
I owe it to them. They gave me this gift and
I’m not going to waste it. You walked up here pretty well. Are there any
lingering injuries? Do full court basketball
or ski in the winter? I try to stay away from running. That’s not great. For the most part, I’m good. But I have a lot of
friends, and there are a lot of other
service members that have injuries that are
far more serious than mine. I try to keep that in mind. What’s it like to get a
phone call at your house from the President? It was– I still don’t
know what to think. It doesn’t seem real. I don’t remember
much of what he said, I just remember me saying,
“thank you Mr. President, yes, sir,” a whole bunch of, ‘OK,
you have a good day too, sir.” So that’s pretty
much all I remember. Did you have any advance warning
that he was going to call? I did. What time of the day was it? It was the morning. So you’re going down in July. Have you ever been to
the White House before? I have. Last month I was
fortunate enough to attend Kyle White’s
Medal of Honor ceremony. He was in Chosen
Company, first platoon. I’m from the Lowell Sun. John Collins. I understand you went
to Souhegan High School too, so might have ran
into you 10 years ago when you were in school still. But do you have Lowell
ties, did you grow up there? We heard you were
a Lowell native. I grew up there very briefly. I don’t really have
any ties there. I claim New Hampshire as home. Mount Vernon? Yeah. Sergeant, you’ve joined
a very exclusive club. Have you’ve heard from
any of the other members, and what are the
lessons that they’re trying to teach you about
how to carry this medal? I’ve spoken to Kyle
White because he’s a friend and another recipient. And just trying to
keep in mind– just take it a day at a
time, and realize that there are responsibilities
that accompany the award. What are those responsibilities? To represent service
members and tell our story. To tell a story the
minute I was with. To honor the award. You never want to bring any
sort of disgrace on the award. You’re a man of few
words, right Ryan? Mostly? Are you a new kind
of dreading having to retell this for
the rest of your life? Because as we noted, it’s– few
people have received this honor and yet here you are. You didn’t ask for it, but now
until you’re an elderly man, you’ll be asked to
retell that story. I’m not dreading it I guess. I appreciate the opportunity
to tell our story. And it’s probably what
I want to do most, but it’s also the thing that’s
the most difficult to do. Sergeant, why did
you join the Army? I didn’t know what I wanted
to do after high school. I had always wanted to serve
but got caught up in high school with the things the adolescent
teenage boys get caught up in, when it came time to really
start thinking about what I wanted to do, I thought
the military was a great way to serve my country
and figure it out. And I’ve never regretted it. One of my colleagues in the
Globe wrote a great story. Cooking grenades, that’s
when you pull the pin and wait a few seconds
before you throw it so they can throw it back. How do you practice that? Is that something that you did
for the first time in battle? Or was that– to happen? That was the first
time I ever did it in combat with a live grenade. I’d actually practiced
it in basic training, went through a grenade
training course. And that’s where I
first learned about it. Was it a live
grenade in practice? No. It was a dummy grenade. How many times did you do
that in the fire fight? At least three, probably more. At any point in the retelling
the story, people must ask you, how many of the enemy
did you get, personally? Is that something
you would know? No. I have no idea. Primarily, you were calling
in reinforcements, too, while you were under fire? I was relaying information
to Major Myer who was our company
commander at the time. Captain Myer at the time. Is there anybody else that
was in the fight that is also deserving of the Medal
of Honor in your mind? That’s something
that my– I wasn’t nominated for it originally. My commanders have– that
decision was never mine. Like I said, I don’t
think of this as mine. It belongs to us. We earned it together. Probably more of just a
technical question, but how did the battle end? Did the Taliban forces retreat,
or were they destroyed? Did you guys end up
getting evacuated? Can you tell us about that? I was evacuated before
the end of the battle, but they eventually withdrew
and they were pursued, both by soldiers and air craft. I know you mentioned
that it was a blur, but do you remember
what the night was like before you saw
the enemies come out? It seemed like any other night. It was quiet. The only thing different
about that morning was that the locals
didn’t come up to the fields to work,
that was probably about the only thing that
seemed different and odd. How many other battles did
you do in your ’14 months? And I guess this
was your last day and then you’re going to ship. Could you tell me about that? How do you feel about
that, was it ironic? Did you ever think that
was going to happen? It wasn’t in my last day. That was probably
within the last three weeks of our deployment. But it’s one of those things. There’s no pause in combat. You’re not done until
you leave the country. We were OK. I’m OK with that. How many other battles had
you been in in your 14 months? I don’t– more than one. But that was the
nature of that area. Our company wasn’t the
only one that saw a fight. Battle Company, which
has been the movie Restrepo and upcoming Korangal. Our Able Company– every
company saw fighting. So we weren’t alone in
that, and we certainly weren’t the only wants
to see fierce fighting. I think every unit did. Every company lost a soldier. Any thoughts of reupping? Or you figured you were done. For me, my injuries– I
knew that I couldn’t perform at the level that
I would want to. And that was kind of it for me. If you could have,
would you have? Yes I would’ve. I love the military. It was greatest thing
I’ve ever done in my life. And it was the
honor of my lifetime to serve with those guys. I would do it all again. Sergeant, I don’t want
to be too repetitive. I know you’re very
humble, but can you walk us through a
little bit again about the course
of events and what you were about to do that night. From the initial
onset of the battle, I was wounded in the
opening volley of RPGs and hand grenades
that came into the OP. Really, at that time I
was, little shell-shocked, and the other guys that
weren’t– like Rainey and Ayers and McKaig and Bogar
are continuing to fight, and then I finally moved to
the southern position and got a little bit of treatment. And then, after Stafford
came there and said that Zwilling and
Phillips had been killed, and he thought that they
throwing hand grenades, that I thought– if we’re within
hand grenade range for them, they’re within hand
grenade range for us. So then I moved back out. From that point on,
I was just trying to keep up with what
everybody else was doing. That’s what motivated me. That’s why I really don’t think
that I did anything differently than anybody else. And also can you
talk a little bit the specific injuries
you sustained? Yep. The most serious injuries
were to– my right leg took shrapnel. Peppered all over my
right leg, my backside, some to my left leg, left
Achilles, left hip, left arm, and I took a little bit of
shrapnel to my forehead, but it was mainly superficial. And today would you
say you’re fully recuperated from those
physical injuries? I would say I’m
fully recuperated. They did a phenomenal
job at Walter Reed, putting us back together and
so many other service members, that it’s amazing. Did you think you
were going to die? When I realized I was alone,
I thought I was going to die. I thought it was my time. But my biggest
concern is that I knew that I didn’t want
to be taken alive. Do you remember how
long the battle lasted? I was only there for an hour
and a half to two hours. But it went well on after that. Would you describe that
one and a half, two hours as the most defining
moment of your life? I would say so, in the
way that I’ve processed and just– what I
saw the guys do. Whenever I’m having a tough day
and I think things are hard, I just try and think
of what everybody went through that day
and then the guys who don’t get to have
tough days anymore. I try not to complain. At any point in the battle,
when you were under fire, did you hearken back
to anything that you were taught in training, from a
particular commanding officer, a piece of advice, maybe,
that helps you in that time? Consciously, no, but it’s there. I was exposed to so
many phenomenal leaders and other soldiers that– I
did a tour previous to that with guys that did the
combat jump into Iraq. And I always looked at the
guys who came before me, and was like, I’m never going
to be as good as they are. And certainly, they
all impacted me, whether it’s
Sergeant Kahler, who was killed in January that year. I think back on
previous commanders that I had, such as
Major [INAUDIBLE], Sergeant Major [INAUDIBLE] now,
other platoon sergeants– just everybody that I’ve
ever served with. Not even just leaders. Peers and subordinates. I think that’s something
that Sergeant Kahler taught me, was that good ideas
can come from anywhere. You can learn anything. You can learn valuable
information from anyone. So when I think about
the battle like that, I feel like every
leader I ever had or everybody I ever served
with was there with us. Do you have any plans to
place the Medal of Valor on display your house? Or do you think you
might do with it? I haven’t given
that any thought. I’m taking it one day at a time. Did you join the
American Legion or VFW? Done other kids
of veteran things? I am a lifetime member the VFW. I haven’t joined
the American Legion. Member of the 173rd
Airborne Association. This might be going
allow ourselves to, but if you thought about
what you might tell Lucas when time comes about that day? I don’t want to tell him
about my experiences. I want to tell them about
what the other guys did. And he’s going to
grow up knowing some of the men that were
there with me that day. I still keep in very close
touch with some of them. And I want him to know that he’s
here because of their actions. It’s the only reason he’s here. Because a lot of those
guys saved my life. And there’s probably
a lot of other men there that wouldn’t
be here if it weren’t for them
in their actions. Guys like Lieutenant Brostrom,
and Corporal Hovater, and everybody the OP,
and a lot of other men, too, that did come home. It’s not an understatement when
I say valor was everywhere. You talked about how– is it
Sergeant Garcia and his dying words– and about
talking to his mother– and he wanted you to talk
to his mother and his wife. Did you end up doing that? And what was that like? I was able to speak with
Lesly Garcia and Maricruz when I went back to Italy
for the return ceremonies, end it was certainly
emotionally challenging. But I owed it to him. And I’m glad that I was able
to carry out his last wishes. What was really important
is that his family knew he was thinking of them
in his last moments and that he loved
them– not anything to do at my level of discomfort. Thank you very much, sir. Before you step
down, would it be possible for your wife
to join you on stage? Your name, please, miss? Amy. You go by Pitts, Amy? Yes I do. Where’s the baby? He’s in daycare. How does it feel to
have a Medal of Honor recipient for a husband? So far still a nominee,
but it’s incredible. It’s amazing. How do you feel about
this whole experience? It’s overwhelming. Just taking it day by
day, go through all of it together and take it in stride. Thank you. We will have time for one more
question, so if you’ve got one, go ahead and ask it. And otherwise,
we’ll wrap things up and Sergeant Pitts will give
a quick closing statement. And I want to thank everyone
for coming here today and being here. And we look forward to
July 21 down in Washington. No more questions? You gave us some
names at some point. You mentioned a lieutenant,
Corporal Power, I think. Kyle. Could you give me
their full names? So the fallen were 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. I have those. Thank you very much for
coming here today and taking an interest in our story. It certainly is our
story, not mine. This award belongs to every
man that was there that day, and I wouldn’t be here
if it wasn’t for them. And it was the honor of my
lifetime to serve with them. Thank you.

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