Ryan Pitts and his Medal of Honor
Three years ago I went on an outback excursion into the mountains of Montana with the Heroes and Horses program. At the time Demophilus blogged about it, which you can READ HERE. Demophilus and I served together in the Army in Afghanistan, and we were paired up with a Forward Observer and an Infantryman from the 173rd Airborne. The four of us shared a cabin, and later a tent when we headed up into the woods. Over the ensuing week we got to know each other fairly well, telling stories, drinking adult beverages and just hanging out. It was simply an amazing week.
At the time the forward observer and the infantryman were just Ryan and Mongo, two guys that were awesome to hang out with, and have a ton of laughs. Not sure if my body ended up hurting more from a week on a horse or a week of laughing nonstop. Tonight (or maybe tomorrow) Ryan will be on the David Letterman show, a far cry from where we were in the mountains with no cell service, much less TV.
On Monday I was honored to be one of Ryan's guests as he received our nation's highest honor for military service, the Medal of Honor. Mongo was there as well, proudly wearing a lapel pin which showed his Silver Star. The picture above is the four of us (from L to R, Mike "Mongo" Denton, Ryan Pitts, me, and Demophilius) as we once again enjoyed beverages and stories at a local American Legion post after the White House ceremony.
Demophilius had a great comment to me as he drove me back to Marymount University to go back to my life as a counselor at Boys Nation.
"It's a little like hanging out with Peter Parker years before you found out he was Spiderman" he said. It's about as close to understanding our feelings as you can get. The Ryan I knew, and know, is a guy who smiles constantly. The Ryan in the video receiving his just reward was a stone faced paratrooper who brought a lot of Taliban to their just reward.
When you hear what Ryan did that day, you get an image of him. That image is both less and more than he is in "real life" which is what I know him from. He's a husband, a new father, a Red Sox fan, and a caring and giving guy. I interviewed four people from the unit, and three of them specifically, and seperately said that "he would give anyone the shirt off his back." They talked about how he led by example, how unsurprised they were by his actions that day, and how he was the perfect spokesperson for the American Soldier. He's incredibly bright, incredibly articulate, and astonishgly humble. You can tell from his press conference from his home state of New Hampshire...
I cherish the week I spent with Ryan, somewhat for the opportunity to see Montana on horseback, but mostly becuse I got to hang out with Ryan and Mongo, two real life heroes. And I cherished the opportunity to be on hand in the East Room when his actions that day in Afghanistan were recognized in such a hallowed occasion as the awarding of the Medal of Honor.
But I will always remember Ryan for something he did before I even met him. There was a young boy named Evan Pertile who had cancer. But what defined Evan was his love of all things Military. When Evan started having trouble finding the strength to eat, soldiers started sending encouragement and telling him he needed to eat if he wanted to grow up to be big and strong and join the army. But Ryan actually went from New Hampshire down to Tennessee to meet Evan. He even brought him gifts, like a maroon Paratroopers beret.
He made that little boys day, and Evan would go on to recover fully. Evan got a chance to come up to DC this week with his Mom, and see his hero (and mine) Ryan right before he received his medal.
I'm excited to write a story for the American Legion Magazine about Ryan, his friendship with Evan, and the horrors of war experienced that day in Afghanistan that would later be known as the Battle of Wanat. But I really want people to see the side of Ryan that I saw, and which his platoon mates are eager to point out: not just the stone-blooded warrior that everyone will see from the video of his award ceremony, but also the guy who would give you the shirt off his back, or the beret off his shelf.
He's an incredible warrior, no doubt about it, but he's also one hell of a nice guy.