President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Leroy Arthur Petry today. Petry is only the second living, active duty service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
A veteran of eight deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petry received the nation's highest military honor for the courageous actions he took in Paktya province, Afghanistan in May 2008. Wounded and under enemy fire, Petry saved two fellow soldiers by tossing away an enemy grenade that landed near them, losing his own right hand in the process.
Petry's "selfless acts" remind us that "heroes still exist," Obama said at the White House award ceremony this afternoon. "There are heroes all around us. Millions of Americans in uniform who served these past ten years."
Petry enlisted in the Army in 1999 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was training to be an Army Ranger on 9/11. He has since served six deployments in Afghanistan and two in Iraq.
Petry "carries with him memories of the Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice, who have made this progress in Afghanistan possible," Obama said today.
Obama recounted that earlier today Petry showed him a plaque literally bolted to his prosthetic right arm that carries the names of all the fallen fellow Army Rangers from the 75th regiment. "Quite literally, they are a part of him," Obama said, "as they are part of America."
At one of the saddest parts of the ceremony, Obama acknowledged in the East Room audience the family members of one of the fallen soldiers listed on Petry's prosthetic arm. Army Ranger Specialist Christopher Gathercole, 21, died of a gunshot wound sustained during the May 2008 operation that Petry helped two other soldiers survive.
Obama also spoke at the White House ceremony today of the painful sacrifices made by the spouses and children of U.S. military service members, including Petry's wife Ashley and their four children: "Our heroes are all around us."
In May 2008, Petry was part of a military assault team assigned to apprehend a high-value target in a compound in Paktya province.
Petry and a fellow Army Ranger, Private 1st Class Lucas Robinson, entered a court yard on the compound, when they came under enemy fire. Bullets passed through both of Petry's legs, and another round hit Robinson on a side-plate.
After a fellow Army Ranger, Sgt. Daniel Higgins, came to evaluate their wounds, "an insurgent threw a grenade over the chicken coop at the three Rangers," knocking "them to the ground and [wounding] Higgins and Robinson," the Army News Service reported in May when the award was announced.
Then an insurgent lobbed another grenade, which landed a few feet from the wounded Robinson and Higgins.
"Recognizing the threat that the enemy grenade posed to his fellow Rangers, Petry -- despite his own wounds and with complete disregard for his personal safety -- consciously and deliberately risked his life to move to and secure the live enemy grenade and consciously throw the grenade away from his fellow Rangers, according to battlefield reports," Army News Service report said:
As Petry released the grenade in the direction of the enemy, preventing the serious injury or death of Higgins and Robinson, it detonated and catastrophically amputated his right hand.
With a clear mind, Petry assessed his wound and placed a tourniquet on his right arm. Once this was complete, he reported that he was still in contact with the enemy and that he had been wounded again."
"If not for Staff Sergeant Petry's actions, we would have been seriously wounded or killed," Higgins later said in a statement, according to Army news.
Petry is the ninth U.S. soldier to have served in Iraq or Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor. But only he and one other recipient, Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, were bestowed the award while still alive.
"I think he absolutely deserves the Medal of Honor, but you are right that very few U.S. servicemen have been recognized with the nation's highest military award," Andrew Exum, a defense expert at the Center for New American Security who previously served in Afghanistan, told The Envoy.
"This is either because my generation is less brave than generations past, or because we are being unnecessarily stingy with the medal itself," Exum continued. "I think it's the latter, obviously."
Petry currently serves with the 75th Rangers regiment in Ft. Benning, Georgia as a liaison officer for the U.S. Special Operations command giving guidance to fellow wounded service members and their families.
Those U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously are: Spc. Ross A. McGinnis, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, and Marine Corps Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, for their actions in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti and Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy for action in Afghanistan.