WASHINGTON, March 1, 2016 —
Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr. made swift life-and-death decisions when he and his team rescued an American hostage in Afghanistan while also neutralizing threats surrounding him, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said today.
The deputy secretary inducted Byers into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes a day after President Barack Obama presented the nation’s highest military award to the Navy SEAL for his heroic actions in a December 2012 mission.
Byers is the 3,497th service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor out of nearly 40 million U.S. men and women who have served in wartime, Work told an a Pentagon auditorium audience of Byers’ family, friends, SEAL teammates, other Medal of Honor recipients, and military leaders such as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. John Richardson.
Work asked Byers to stand and face the crowd, and then asked those who’ve served to stand and salute the newest Medal of Honor recipient and Hall of Heroes inductee.
‘Coolness Under Fire’
Work made note of Byers’ 11 deployments, nine combat tours, eight recognitions for valor -- including five Bronze Stars -- and two Purple Hearts.
“Ed Byers' humility, precision, coolness under fire, selflessness and incredible warrior spirit would seem too fantastical for us to believe,” Work said, if Byers’ actions were a Hollywood movie script. “But his deadly skill and willingness to sacrifice himself to save [an American doctor’s] life is anything but fantastical.”
Work said what special operators like Byers do in a hostage rescue mission is one of the most complex, dangerous and demanding operations they perform.
Work said that as their name implies, Navy SEALs are ready to fight against any foe from the land, sea, under the sea and from the air. “They will not be defeated by any loss … they will not be intoxicated by success. They will never hide from failure,” he added.
The missions carried out by Navy SEALs since the United States was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, have always been “at the sharp edge of the spear, again and again in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, over 15 years of continuous war,” Work said.
“They truly embody the phrase ‘uncommon valor is a common virtue,’” he added.
And while the military has asked a lot of its special operators during the last 15 years of war, “they have always answered the call,” Work said. “And they have suffered a heavy price,” he added.
By honoring Byers' valor and sacrifice, Work said, the nation will always remember the fallen, and today in particular, it is Byers’ friend and teammate, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, the first assaulter in that operation who was mortally wounded and later died.
Work took a moment to pay tribute to the 2,349 American service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service of the United States while serving in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom, the longest war in U.S. history, and the many who returned home to start life anew.
“Senior Chief Byers, your story represents the very best of American fighting men and women, and it preserves the memory of your comrades and Nicolas Checque,” he said.
Teammate Inseparable From Award
Recognizing what he called his heroes – family, faith and the special operators’ brotherhood -- Byers told the audience those heroes are the reason he stood at the podium today.
“Nic Checque was a brother, a warrior and a friend,” he said. “And though I’ve said this repeatedly, this award is inseparable from his death.”
Checque embodied what it means to be a Navy SEAL, Byers said, his emotions audible. “He was hard as nails, never quit, and had a never-fail mentality,” carrying out some of the most difficult missions the team was assigned.
But Checque paid the ultimate sacrifice doing what he loved on the battlefield, “because that’s what brothers do – they will lay down their lives for you,” he said.
Because Byers and his teammates have been to many funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and have seen “too many good men buried,” he said many people might ask what keeps him going after such loss.
“The answer, without question, is the brotherhood,” he said.
Byers said he was speaking of his comrades last in his remarks for a reason.
“I want to emphasize I am no different than any of my teammates. I’m certain any one of them would have taken the same actions that I did that day,” Byers said, noting he feels a sense of responsibility with the recognition that has been bestowed upon him.
“My brothers who are still fighting are still in the shadows and deserve to share the spotlight,” he told the audience. And special operators are quiet professionals “who do not seek special recognition for their actions,” he added.
Receiving the Medal of Honor and being inducted into the Pentagon Hall of Heroes humbles him as he represents the Navy and special operators, Byers said. “My only desire is my representation is something my brothers I serve with would be proud of, because ‘The deed is all, not the glory.’”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)