White House (July 21, 2014) - President Barack Obama awards
the Medal of Honor to former Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts the Medal of Honor during
a ceremony at the White House for his courageous actions while serving as a
Forward Observer with C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry
Regiment, during combat operations in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, July 13,
2008. Ryan Pitts is the ninth living recipient to receive the Medal of Honor
for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Video courtesy of the Pentagon Channel / Edited by USA Patriotism!
Text of President Barack Obama's Remarks and Associated
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
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.
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
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.)
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.
Sgt. Ryan Pitts and Sgt. Israel Garcia patrol the
area near the village of Rechalam, Afghanistan, which is west of Forward
Operating Base Blessing, in the summer of 2007. (U.S. Army courtesy photo)
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
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.
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.
Staff Sgt. Lucas Gonzalez and Sgt. Ryan Pitts pay
their respects to former platoon sergeant Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler,
during a memorial ceremony at Combat Outpost Bella, Afghanistan, January 28,
2008. Kahler was killed during a patrol to visit guard stations near COP
Bella. (U.S. Army courtesy photo)
The son who “absorbed love like a sponge;” the expectant
father whose dream would later come true, a beautiful baby girl -- Specialist
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.
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
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.
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
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.
with that, I would like our military aide to please complete the ceremony.
President bestows the Medal of Honor.) (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's not bad to stand up on this one.
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.)