June 24, 2014

Profiles of Valor: U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan J. Pitts

Pitts will receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.

Early on the morning of July 13, 2008, an estimated 200 jihadis attacked a new U.S. patrol base in the village of Wanat in Nuristan province, Afghanistan. The battle proved to be a controversial one. An ensuing investigation into the procedures and orders before the battle found that commanders overextended our troops and left them vulnerable to attack while building outposts. But no further action was taken.

On Monday, the White House announced that former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, who was medically discharged in 2009, will become the ninth living Medal of Honor recipient for actions in either Afghanistan or Iraq. The ceremony will take place July 21.

Pitts was manning Observation Post Topside at the time of the attack in Wanat. According to the Army’s account of the battle, “Shortly after [4:00 a.m.], soldiers conducting surveillance identified potential insurgents. They put together a request for fire. But before that could happen, at about 4:20 a.m., Soldiers heard machine-gun fire from the north. After that, the valley erupted in enemy fire. Soldiers at OP Topside were hit with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades. Pitts and six other paratroopers at OP Topside were injured in the initial volley of enemy fire. Two paratroopers were killed. Pitts took grenade shrapnel in both legs and his left arm. For more than an hour after, Pitts continued to fight and defend his position and his teammates, despite his injuries.”

The Washington Post added that Pitts kept “repeatedly tossing hand grenades at oncoming insurgents and manning an M240B machine gun under a hail of enemy fire until other soldiers could respond.”

Nine soldiers were killed, and another 27 wounded. The dead were 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom; Cpl. Jonathan Ayers; Cpl. Jason Bogars; Cpl. Jason Hovater; Cpl. Matthew Phillips; Cpl. Pruitt Rainey; Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling; Sgt. Israel Garcia; and Spc. Sergio Abad.

Of the controversy, Pitts said, “[W]e were doing our jobs,” adding, “When you understand the battle space, every commander in Afghanistan was dealing with limited resources. At every level, we were trying to do the best we could with what we had. Everybody fought for each other that day, and we held our ground.”

Pitts exhibited the humility typical of American warriors, saying, “For me, this was a team effort. I’m going to receive it, but it’s not going to be mine. We did it together. No one guy carried that day. I don’t think I did anything more than anyone else, and I think this award represents everything we did as a collective effort that day. And for me, it’s also a memorial to the guys who didn’t come home.”

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