Profiles of Valor: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins

Atkins sacrificed his own life to save three others, and received a posthumous Medal of Honor.

Publius · Mar. 28, 2019

Monday was National Medal of Honor Day, and to mark the occasion we quoted John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

That love was on fully display in the life — and death — of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins. President Donald Trump presented a posthumous Medal of Honor to Atkins’s now-22-year-old son Trevor Oliver Wednesday for Travis’s actions to save his men in Iraq 12 years ago. Just hours before he was killed on June 1, 2007, Atkins called his parents, in part to apologize to his mom: “He did say that he was sorry he had forgotten to get something in the mail for me for Mother’s Day,” said his mother Elaine Atkins. Army officers soon came to their home to relay the tragic news. “After we spoke to the chaplain,” Elaine said, “I went to the mailbox and there was a little package from Travis with a Mother’s Day card for me and a Father’s Day card for Jack. The card said ‘Thanks for everything,’ and it just brought it home.”

Sand Aijo, the machine gunner in Atkins’s unit, watched as Atkins and a medic searched two suspected roadside bombers. Both of them resisted, and Atkins worked to restrain one of them. “That’s when Travis started to actually engage in a form of hand-to-hand combat with this man,” Aijo said. “Travis bear-hugged the man, lifted him off the ground and slammed him down.” That’s because the jihadi had pulled the pin on his bomb vest and Atkins was actually moving to shield three of his men from the blast. According to Aijo, “He had definitely sacrificed himself so that we could live.”

Aijo penned a touching account of Travis’s life and death.

Jack Atkins, Travis’s father, wasn’t surprised by his son’t sacrifice. The Vietnam vet said of his son, “We talked about the responsibility of what you owe to people who are serving under you, and what you need to do to protect them.” Mission accomplished, though at the ultimate cost.

“I want him to be remembered as the best father that anyone could ask for, and also at the same time being the best soldier that anyone could ask for,” Trevor Oliver said. “He was my icon.”

His citation reads:

Staff Sergeant Atkins distinguished himself by conspicuous acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 1 June, 2007, while serving as a Squad Leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

While manning a static observation post in the town of Abu Samak, Iraq, Staff Sergeant Atkins was notified that four suspicious individuals, walking in two pairs, were crossing an intersection not far from his position. Staff Sergeant Atkins immediately moved his squad to interdict them. One of the individuals began behaving erratically, prompting Staff Sergeant Atkins to disembark from his patrol vehicle and approach to conduct a search.

Both individuals responded belligerently toward Staff Sergeant Atkins, who then engaged the individual he had intended to search in hand-to-hand combat.

When he noticed the insurgent was reaching for something under his clothes, Staff Sergeant Atkins immediately wrapped him in a bear hug and threw him to the ground, away from his fellow soldiers. Maintaining his hold on the insurgent, he pinned him to the ground, further sheltering his patrol. The insurgent then detonated a bomb strapped to his body, killing Staff Sergeant Atkins.

In this critical and selfless act of valor, Staff Sergeant Atkins acted with complete disregard for his own safety, saving the lives of the three soldiers who were with him and gallantly giving his life for his country.

Staff Sergeant Atkins’s undaunted courage, warrior spirit, and steadfast devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and the United States Army.

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