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Just days after Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter was presented with our nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, the White House announced that another American serviceman will receive the medal, too.
Ryan Pitts, a former Army staff sergeant, served in Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, the same unit to which Medal of Honor recipients Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and Sgt. Kyle White belonged at the same time. It was there, on July 13, 2008, that Pitts participated in one of the deadliest engagements in recent years, the Battle of Wanat. In the course of the conflict, nine soldiers gave their lives and 27 more were wounded. Pitts, who was a sergeant at the time, courageously fought to protect his fellow paratroopers from being overrun.
During the first few minutes of enemy assault, doom seemed inevitable for the American paratroopers. Rocket-propelled grenades and machine gunfire cut through the air from the enemy’s concealed positions in nearby buildings. As the forward observer of his unit, the 2nd Platoon, Pitts was the only soldier left alive in his observation post, although he was seriously wounded.
Alone and on the verge of unconsciousness due to blood loss, Pitts stayed in constant communication with his higher headquarters. Although additional reinforcements were not available, Army AH-64 attack helicopters were able to support the troops on the ground, due in part to Pitts’ coordination on the radio. Despite the deep shrapnel wound to his right thigh, Pitts was able to meet up with fellow soldiers, one of whom applied a life-saving tourniquet.
Some of Pitts’ fellow soldiers credit him with keeping the enemy at bay. One of those men, Sgt. Brian Hissong, believes that Pitts’ actions prevented the 2nd Platoon from being completely overrun.
From Army Times:
“Even though he damn near got himself killed, he managed to keep his composure and keep fighting and do what he was supposed to do,” he said about Pitts. “His weapon would go down and he’d get another one and continue to fight. He was throwing grenades at [the enemy] and throwing rocks at them to get them to jump out from behind cover.”
Others who where there remarked that Pitts was the “only person that began the fight on the OP and stayed on the OP for the firefight until he was [evacuated].”
All in all, Pitts’ actions prevented the deaths of many of his brothers in arms, allowed for the evacuation of the wounded, and resulted in the deaths of many of the more than 200 enemy combatants who assaulted his position.
From NBC News:
“Throughout the battle, despite the loss of blood and severity of his wounds, Pitts’ incredible toughness, determination, and ability to communicate with leadership while under fire allowed U.S. forces to hold the (observation post) and turn the tide of the battle,” according to the military’s narrative of the battle.
When asked about what happened during the Battle of Wanat, Pitts credited his fellow paratroopers rather than himself.
“Everybody sacrificed a lot that day,” he said. “I try to think about the guys we lost and try to do my best to honor them and the gift they gave me. I hate the word ‘hero.’ But I feel very fortunate when I look at the guys I served with. They’re my heroes. It was the honor of my lifetime to serve with them.”
Pitts will receive the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on July 21 at a ceremony at the White House. Though he says he doesn’t believe he is a hero, he certainly holds the title in the heart of every American.
Image via US Army