WASHINGTON, July 22, 2014 —
A former paratrooper who received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama yesterday for acts of valor against the Taliban in 2008 was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes during a ceremony here today.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, Army Secretary John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno recognized Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts for single-handedly thwarting enemy access to his fallen fellow soldiers’ bodies during a grueling battle to defend Observation Post Topside near the village of Wanat in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
“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,” Work said, his voice wavering. “But Ryan takes his place in our Hall of Heroes because of his actions on that day in July 2008, [and] he exemplifies the qualities of the American soldier: steadfast devotion to duty, tenacity in the fight and love and respect for each other.”
For most troops fighting in the United States’ longest continual war, Work explained, insurgents have typically been mere “shadowy foes” who fire improvised explosive devices from concealed positions.
But these enemies, who outnumbered soldiers at Pitts’ outpost by about 10 to 1, were far more brazen, Work noted.
“It was close quarters combat against an enemy that was aggressively pushing home its assault,” Work said. “They were hoping to overwhelm that outpost with sheer numbers and volume of fire.”
Work reported that at one point during the fire fight, an American soldier shouted the warning, “They’re inside the wire!”
The deputy secretary also recounted that the enemy fighters were in such close proximity that their voices were audible over the radio Pitts used.
The beleaguered soldier had been knocked to the ground and bled heavily from shrapnel wounds to his arm and legs. He held grenades without the safety pins to ensure immediate detonation once he lobbed them at the insurgents.
But grit and luck somehow prevailed, enabling him to regain control of the observation post and return fire on the enemy.
“The soldiers were looking directly into the faces of their combatants. This really is about a battle of will, and our soldiers met the enemies’ ferocity with their own,” Work said. “If it hadn’t been for [Pitts’] bravery and determination, the position most certainly would’ve been overrun.”
Immediately after the fight Pitts told his company commander that he thought he would soon die, but he committed to do all possible to stave off the enemy from the bodies of his fallen comrades.
In remarks during his induction ceremony, Pitts twice uttered the names of those who perished that day, calling the experience the honor of his life to answer the call and serve his country alongside Chosen Company.
Many factors brought the men together and motivated them to fight, he said, but his personal reasons include a love for country and dedication to his brothers in arms.
“In my combat experience, the latter is the one guiding principal that carries us through battle,” Pitts said. “The medal represents our sacrifices and those of every service member, and will forever serve as a memorial to the fallen.”
As these wars draw to an end, Work said, millions of veterans will follow the example of Ryan Pitts, all other Medal of Honor recipients and all others who have served in recent years.
“Having served their country on the field of battle,” he said, “this generation of service members will continue to work hard to change our country for the better, whether they are in or out of uniform.”
Of the millions of men and women who have served in uniform, fewer than 4,000 have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @lyleDoDNews)