Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts Receives the Medal of Honor

Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts Receives the Medal of Honor


Male Speaker: Let us pray. Almighty God, today as we
honor an American solider deserving of our nation’s
highest respect and thanks. You receive this
admiration for the valor, bravery and heroism
displayed in the battle of the warrior who has made
his country proud, and added forever
to his legacy. He’s of the chosen few to
receive this honor today, as a nation pauses
today to recognize him. Our hearts are touch by
staff sergeant Ryan Pitts, as humbly insistent that
his remarkable action in the Battle of Wanat, that
was, and always will be, loyalty to his unit. We acknowledge the legacy
of a faithful family, family who cared
for, supported for. We pray for Sergeant Pitts
as symbolized, and a faded flag everyday, as
his service in uniform. We join our hearts
together, as we honor his desire, we remember the
nine soldiers he continues to respect by his
deeds each day. By honoring him today,
honoring the courage at commitment who
serve in harm’s way. As we pray in your
holy name, Amen. The President: Good
afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the
White House. Please be seated,
please be seated. For our forces in
Afghanistan, the battle of Wanat was one of the most
fierce of this entire war. Forty-eight Americans,
along with their Afghan partners, were manning
their small base, deep in a valley when they were
attacked by some 200 insurgents. And those insurgents
seemed determined to overrun an even smaller
post just outside the base — an elevated patch of
boulders and sandbags defended by just
nine American soldiers. Soon, under the relentless
fire, all nine of those men were
wounded or killed. Insurgents broke
through the wire. And that little post was
on the verge of falling, giving the enemy a perch
from which to devastate the base below. Against that onslaught,
one American held the line — Just 22 years old,
nearly surrounded, bloodied but unbowed —
the soldier we recognize today with our
nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of
Honor, Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts. Now, I don’t want to
embarrass Ryan, but the character he displayed
that day was clearly forged early. I’m told that in
kindergarten, when asked what he wanted to be
when he grew up, he drew a picture of a soldier. When he was in the 5th
grade, his teacher sent home a note that described
Ryan in words that would be familiar to all
those who knew him today — Ryan, she wrote, is “a
very special human being.” In Ryan Pitts you see the
humility and the loyalty that define America’s men
and women in uniform. Of this medal, he says,
“It’s not mine alone. It belongs to everybody
who was there that day because we did
it together.” So I want to welcome those
who were there that day — Ryan’s brothers in arms,
and those who are going to be welcoming him into
their ranks — the members of the Medal of
Honor Society. We are very proud of them
and we are honored by the presence of the families
of our fallen heroes as well. We welcome Ryan’s family,
many from New Hampshire, including his
wonderful wife, Amy. I have to take a pause
because they are actually celebrating —
Ryan and Amy — their second anniversary today. (laughter) As Ryan put it,
it’s going to be tough topping this one, as
anniversaries go. (laughter) But let me just
give you a piece of advice as somebody who now
has been married for over 20 years: You should try. (laughter) I’m just saying
don’t rest on your laurels after just two years. (laughter) We welcome
their gorgeous son, one-year-old Lucas, who
Ryan is beginning to teach a love for all things New
England — of course, the Red Sox and the Bruins and
the Celtics and the Pats. I want you to try and
imagine the extraordinary circumstances in which
Ryan and his team served. This was the summer of
2008, and this was a time when our forces in
Afghanistan were stretched thin and our troops were
deployed to isolated outposts. They had just arrived in
Wanat just days before and they were still building
their very small base — a handful of armored
vehicles and fighting positions and
foxholes and sandbags. Wanat, one report
later concluded, had “significant
vulnerabilities.” Parts of the village
sat on higher ground. On every side, mountains
soared 10,000 feet into the sky. Heavy equipment to help
build their defenses was delayed. In the 100-degree heat the
soldiers ran low on water. And the aerial
surveillance they were counting on was diverted
away to other missions. Early that morning, in the
pre-dawn darkness, they spotted several men
up the mountains. But before Ryan and his
team could take action, the entire valley erupted. Machine gun fire
and mortar and rocket-propelled grenades
poured down from every direction. And those 200 insurgents
were firing from ridges and from the village
and from trees. Down at the base, a
vehicle exploded — scattering its missiles,
back at our soldiers. It was, said a soldier,
“hell on Earth.” Up at their tiny post,
Ryan and his team were being pounded. Almost instantly, every
one of them was wounded. Ryan was hit by shrapnel
in the arm and both legs and was bleeding badly. Already, three American
soldiers in that valley had fallen. And then a fourth. As the insurgents moved
in, Ryan picked up a grenade, pulled the pin,
and held that live grenade — for a moment, then
another, then another — finally hurling it so they
couldn’t throw it back. And he did that again. And he did it again. Unable to stand, Ryan
pulled himself up on his knees and manned
a machine gun. Soldiers from the base
below made a daring run, dodging bullets and
explosions, and joined the defense. But now the enemy was
inside the post — so close they were throwing
rocks at the Americans, so close they came right
up to the sandbags. Eight American soldiers
had now fallen. And Ryan Pitts was the
only living soldier at that post. The enemy was so close
Ryan could hear their voices. He whispered into the
radio he was the only one left and was
running out of ammo. “I was going to die,” he
remembers, “and made my peace with it.” And then he prepared
to make a last stand. Bleeding and barely
conscious, Ryan threw his last grenades. He grabbed a grenade
launcher and fired nearly straight up, so the
grenade came back down on the enemy just yards away. One insurgent was now
right on top of the post, shooting down until
another team of Americans showed up and
drove him back. As one of his teammates
said, had it not been for Ryan Pitts, that post
“almost certainly would have been overrun.” Even with reinforcements,
the battle was not over. Another wave of
rocket-propelled grenades slammed into the post. Nine American soldiers
were now gone. And still, the
fighting raged. Ryan worked the radio,
helping target the air strikes that were
hitting “danger-close” — just yards away. And with those strikes the
tide of the battle began to turn. Eventually, the
insurgents fell back. Ryan and his fellow
soldiers had held their ground. This medal, Ryan says, is
an opportunity to tell “our” story. “There was valor
everywhere,” according to Ryan. And so today we also pay
tribute to all who served with such valor that day. Shielding their wounded
buddies with their own bodies. Picking up unexploded
missiles with their hands and carrying them away. Running through the
gunfire to reinforce that post. Fighting through their
injuries and never giving up. Helicopter pilots and
MEDEVAC crews who came in under heavy fire. Said one soldier, “Never
in my career have I seen such bravery
and sacrifice.” And so I would ask all
those who served at Wanat — on the ground and in
the air — to please stand, those of you
who are here today. (applause) Most of all,
Ryan says he considers this medal “a memorial for
the guys who didn’t come home.” So today, we honor nine
American soldiers who made the ultimate
sacrifice for us all. The son who “absorbed
love like a sponge;” the expectant father whose
dream would later come true, a beautiful baby
girl — Specialist Sergio Abad. The boy who dominated the
soccer fields, and fell in love with
motorcycles, and there in that remote outpost took a
direct hit in the helmet and kept on fighting — Corporal
Jonathan Ayers. The photographer whose
beautiful pictures captured the spirit of the
Afghan people, and who wrote to his family:
“Afghanistan is exactly (where)…I wanted to be”
— Corporal Jason Bogar. The father who loved
surfing with his son; the platoon leader
who led a dash through the gunfire to that post to
reinforce his men — 1st Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom. An immigrant from Mexico
who became a proud American soldier, on his
third tour, whose final thoughts were of his
family and his beloved wife, Lesly —
Sergeant Israel Garcia. A young man of deep
faith, who served God and country, who
could always get a laugh with his impersonation of his
commander — Corporal Jason Hovater. The husband who couldn’t
wait to become an uncle; the adventurous spirit
who in every photo from Afghanistan has a big
smile on his face — Corporal Matthew Phillips. The big guy with an even
bigger heart, a prankster whose best play was
cleaning up at the poker table with his buddies and his dad — Corporal Pruitt Rainey. And the youngest, just 20
years old, the “little brother” of the
platoon, who loved to play guitar, and who, says his dad,
did everything in his life with passion —
Corporal Gunnar Zwilling. These American patriots
lived to serve us all. They died to
protect each of us. And their legacy lives on
in the hearts of all who love them still,
especially their families. Mothers. Fathers. Wives. Brothers and sisters. Sons and daughters. To you, their families, I
know no words can match the depth of your loss,
but please know that this nation will honor your
soldiers now and forever. And I would ask the Gold
Star families from that deployment to please
stand — including Ali Kahler, age 11, and Jase Brostrom,
who this week turns 12. Please stand. (applause) This is the
story Ryan wants us to remember — soldiers who
loved each other like brothers and who fought
for each other, and families who have made a
sacrifice that our nation must never forget. Ryan says, “I think we owe
it to them to live lives worthy of their
sacrifice.” And he’s absolutely right. As Commander-in-Chief, I
believe one of the ways we can do that is by heeding
the lessons of Wanat. When this nation sends our
troops into harm’s way, they deserve a sound
strategy and a well-defined mission. And they deserve the
forces and support to get the job done. And that’s what we owe
soldiers like Ryan and all the comrades
that were lost. That’s how we can truly
honor all those who gave their lives that day. That’s how, as a nation,
we can remain worthy of their sacrifice. I know that’s a view
that’s shared by our Secretary of Defense and
by our Joint Chiefs of Staff and all the
leadership here. They’re hard lessons, but
they’re ones that are deeply engrained
in our hearts. It is remarkable that we
have young men and women serving in our
military who, day in, day out, are able to perform with so
much integrity, so much humility, and
so much courage. Ryan represents the very
best of that tradition, and we are very, very
proud of him, as we are of all of you. So God bless you, Ryan. God bless all who
serve in our name. May God continue to bless the United States of America. And with that, I would
like our military aide to please complete
the ceremony. Military Aide: The
President of the United States of America,
authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863,
has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of
Honor to Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts United States Army
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the
risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts
distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism
at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of
duty while serving as a Forward Observer in 2d
Platoon, Chosen Company, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d
Infantry Regiment, 173d 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 the hostile
forces. Unable to stand on his own
and near death because of the severity of his wounds
and blood loss, Sergeant Pitts continued to lay
suppressive fire until a two-man
reinforcement team arrived. Sergeant Pitts quickly
assisted them by giving up his main weapon and
gathering ammunition all while continually lobbing
fragmentary grenades until these were expended. At this point, Sergeant
Pitts crawled to the northern position radio
and described the situation to the
CommandPost as the enemy continued to try
and isolate the Observation Post from the
main Patrol Base. With the enemy close
enough for him to hear their voices,
and with total disregard for his own life, Sergeant Pitts
whispered in radio situation reports and
conveyed information that the Command Post used to provide indirect fire support. Sergeant Pitts’ courage,
steadfast commitment to the defense of his unit
and ability to fight while seriously wounded
prevented the enemy from overrunning the
Observation Post and capturing fallen American soldiers, and ultimately prevented the
enemy from gaining fortified positions on higher ground
from which to attack Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts’ extraordinary
heroism and selflessness above and beyond the
callof duty are in keeping with the highest
traditions of military service and reflect great
credit upon himself, Company C, 2d Battalion
(Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne
Brigade and the United States Army. (applause) The President: That’s not bad
to stand up on this one. (applause) Male Speaker: Let us pray. God, renew our hearts, and our faith in your with a firm conviction to live with humility, confidence has strengthened from our short admiration, that Sergeant Pitts exemplary service, his bravery, and devotion. Grant to watch a favor that our nation remains strong and safe, a free land, made so by brave soldiers who defend her on our shores, and faraway outposts, even today. God is on our lives, worthy of our trust and respect, even as they remain faithful in their service. All this we pray in their blessed and holy name, Amen. Well, that
concludes the official part of the ceremony,
but we still have a big anniversary party. (laughter) The White
House, I understand, has prepared some pretty
good edibles and some beverages. And so I hope everybody
enjoys the reception. I want to once again thank
all who served and the families of
those who served. You make us proud
every single day. And to Ryan and Amy and
Lucas — we wish you all the very best
because what an extraordinary family you have. And the pleasures of
family were hard-earned by this young man. Thank you very
much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (applause)

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