Ryan Pitts: The Reluctant Hero receiving the Medal of Honor
I got the email yesterday as I was driving home from Chicago:
On July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama will award Ryan M. Pitts, a former active duty Army Staff Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Staff Sergeant Pitts will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as a Forward Observer with 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during combat operations at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, in the vicinity of Wanat Village in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on July 13, 2008.
Staff Sergeant Pitts will be the ninth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.
I'd been waiting for this one for quite a while. And I haven't been this happy about a recipient before, because I know Ryan, and he's one of the most wonderful people you could meet.
Before I met him I read about him over at Leta's Blog. It started way back in April of 2009, with a story posted at Blackfive:
A kind act toward Soldiers by a woman in South Carolina has resulted in Soldiers from Fort Leavenworth and all over the world giving her son encouragement to fight brain cancer.
Two days before Thanksgiving 2008, a group of Soldiers eating at a restaurant in Colombia, S.C., were surprised when they discovered their lunch had been paid for.
Rachel Pertile tried to pay the bill anonymously, but was caught and thanked by the Soldiers before she could leave the restaurant. The day after Thanksgiving, Pertile's 5-year-old son, Evan, was diagnosed with brain cancer...
Later, on a flight home, Rachel met someone....
Sitting next to Pertile on the flight was Brenda Bowen, who works in Classroom Services at the Command and General Staff College. Bowen offered Pertile an ear and a shoulder, and when she found out Evan's affinity for "Army guys," she knew there was something she could do to help.
"She told me about her son and how he loves Soldiers, and I thought 'I bet I can get a few Soldiers to send him messages,'" Bowen said.
After the flight, Bowen contacted Col. Bob Burns, the director of the Center for Army Tactics at CGSC.
"We start getting faculty and the students to send notes to the boy," Burns said.
It was such a nice story that I started following everything I could about little Evan. And then Leta took a young paratrooper she knew to meet Evan.
SSG Ryan Pitts, 173rd, 2-503, Chosen Few, is visiting with me this weekend. SSG Pitts was wounded at the Battle of Wanat on 13 July 2008 and is currently healing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. There'll be a story tomorrow about why SSG Pitts initially planned this visit.
But back to Evan...
I mentioned Evan's story to SSG Pitts and asked if he was interested in going to visit Evan. I barely finished the question before he said "yes!" So this morning SSG Pitts got up, put on his ACUs and we drove to the Target House to visit Evan and his mom. I had called Rachel to make sure Evan still felt like having company. She said he had been excited for a few days about SSG Pitts' visit so off we went.
I called Rachel to let her know we were on our way over to Target House II. She asked that we just come on up to their room. When we got there we knocked on the door. I stepped to the side so that Evan would only see SGT Pitts when the door opened. And boy did that door swing open wide and fast. When it did there stood the cutest little guy in the world with a smile from ear to ear. SSG Pitts is very tall and I laughed to myself as I watched Evan's head bend further and further back as he looked up towards SSG Pitts' face. We walked in and Evan was racing around the room. Not what we expected since he had chemo yesterday and a transfusion today and his counts are, according to his mom, at zero today.
Introductions and hugs between the adults then Rachel invited us to have a seat. SSG Pitts had barely settled into the couch when...
Anyway, you should go read what Leta said about Evan Pertile and Ryan.
But then I got to meet Ryan like a year later. In fact, I spent some time in a tent with him in Montana on our Heroes and Horses trip. But back to Ryan's heroics real quick, from MIlitary Times:
Pitts, the forward observer, and Sgt. Matthew Gobble began to put together a request for indirect fire from the OP. But before they could complete the call, at about 4:20 a.m., the first burst of machine-gun fire ripped through the air.
The enemy had infiltrated Wanat, setting up firing positions and weapons caches in the town’s bazaar, hotel complex, homes and mosque as they launched a full-scale assault, focusing their fires on VPB Kahler’s key defensive weapon systems and positions.
Within minutes, the enemy had destroyed the TOW system and injured the soldiers manning the 120mm mortar firing pit, setting it on fire, according to the narrative.
“I got knocked out of the center position into one of our northern fighting positions,” Pitts said. “Spc. [Tyler] Stafford was also wounded, Sgt. Gobble was wounded. It was in those opening moments that Spc. Matt Phillips started to return fire — he threw a hand grenade and was killed by the RPG that came in. [Spc.] Gunnar Zwilling was killed. It was just a barrage of RPGs, and it was very disorienting.”
At that point, a sort of rescue unit down below started heading up to where Pitts was:
That team — Staff Sgt. Sean Samaroo, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Spc. Jacob Sones and Spc. Michael Denton, — scrambled up the terraces to reach the OP.
“I didn’t know they were coming,” Pitts said.
Sones started treating Pitts’ wounds while Garcia pulled security, and Samaroo and Denton began checking on the casualties.
The scene at the OP “wasn’t good,” said Denton, who would earn the Silver Star for his actions that day. “I found my best bud Hovater laying up there. I took ammo from Hovater’s body, told him I loved him.”
He then went into the crow’s nest, where he found Ayers slumped over the M240B. Denton gently moved Ayers and began manning the machine gun.
The paratroopers at the OP eventually huddled up in the southern fighting position, while Denton, who was wounded but still able to stand, tried to pull security.
“I cleared a double feed [on a rifle] and I realized how bad my right hand was,” Denton said. “The bone was sticking out of my hand.”
Anyway, you need to go read the whole thing, but Denton (more commonly known by us as "Mongo" was with us in the tent for a week in Montana. By day we rode horses up in the mountains, and by night we drank a ton and a half of adult beverages and told stories of our time in the military. Listening to Denton and Pitts talk about Wanat was tough....it was simply hell on Earth.
When I say he's the nicest, most humble guy ever, I'm not kidding. Watch this video and you be the judge.
Either way, I salute Ryan as a hero, as a friend, and as a Red Sox fan! (He and I bonded over our New England heritage.) I honestly can not wait to go to the White House for this ceremony. I'm even going to buy a brand new suit to wear. No one could ever be more deserving of acolades than Ryan.