Ryan Pitts, Man of Honor
I count myself blessed that I ever got to serve in the Army with men like Ryan and the countless others like him that rose to the challenges of taking on Al qaeda and their ilk. If you don't get our magazine though, you probably didn't get a chance to read my article. My editor was kind enough to put it online so everyone can read it, and I wanted to share it with you.
Going in it was important to me to do a piece on Ryan the person, as opposed to Ryan the Hero. Because honestly, when I first met him it was well before he got the military's highest honor, and I only knew he'd been injured in a huge battle. He and I as well as Ian Deplanque the Legion's Legislative Director and Mike Denton mentioned in the article spent a week together on horseback in Montana. I laughed so much that week that my ribs ached. And I was just so impressed with Ryan as a person that when I heard he was receiving the medal, I couldn't have been more pleased.
To me, he is the epitome of everything that is good about the military, and the younger generation. Anyway, you can read the full piece by CLICKING HERE, but I wanted to share some snippets from the piece, and throw in the videos from my interviews. The clips and passages here are in a different order than the larger piece, but you should read that when you get a chance.
A burst of machine-gun fire initiated contact, followed by an RPG round that hit the position and wounded or stunned everyone at OP Topside. Spc. Matthew Phillips managed to toss one grenade before he was mortally wounded. Pfc. Tyler Stafford and Pitts were seriously wounded, and within the first 20 minutes all nine men at the outpost were either killed or badly hurt. Insurgents then swarmed through a wire barrier that provided meager defense.
“I could look back and see the amount of fire that the OP was taking,” says Sgt. Mike Denton, who was stationed below Topside. “It was just a huge dust cloud, and explosion after explosion after explosion. You knew that nothing good was happening up there.”
Because of its elevated position, Topside was critical to the base. Losing it would have given the more numerous insurgents excellent firing positions. As President Barack Obama said at Pitts’ Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House on July 21, “against that onslaught, one American held the line ... just 22 years old, nearly surrounded, bloodied but unbowed.”
Wounded in both legs and with shrapnel in his arm, Pitts crawled onto the sandbags and fired a machine gun at the approaching insurgents. Alone and bleeding, the perimeter of his position breached, his predicament was grave. He could hear enemy voices as they closed in. He made a prediction about his fate: “I was going to die and made my peace with it.”
Pitts would not go down without a fight, though. He began throwing grenades, but because his attackers were so close and the grenades had a five-second fuse, he would “cook them off” for three seconds before hurling them. After exhausting his supply of hand grenades, he picked up a grenade launcher and began firing almost directly straight up to hit targets surrounding his position.
Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts of Nashua, N.H., strode onto the Hall of Heroes stage at the Pentagon one day after receiving the Medal of Honor last July. His biggest little fan, 9-year-old Evan Pertile of Columbia, S.C., had a prime seat next to his mom, Rachel, and their friend, Leta Carruth, in the third row.
Evan was especially excited about his trip to and from the Hall of Heroes. “We got a police escort from the hotel to the Pentagon, and then they took us back from the Pentagon!” he declared.
That Evan could be there at all delighted Pitts. At 5, the boy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor that is now in remission. While he was ill, Evan received a special visit from a wounded soldier recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The soldier was Ryan Pitts.
After he returned from the war, Pitts graduated from the University of New Hampshire at Manchester and now works for Oracle Corp. in business development for the public sector, which includes DoD and other federal agencies. He’s also on the board of directors for DreamCatchers, a New Hampshire nonprofit organization that provides social and recreational activities for individuals with special needs.
“My involvement with DreamCatchers began when I was a student,” he says. “We had a business program class where we did a project to help raise money for them.” Pitts and his team used a benefit auction, featuring art created by special-needs teens and adults, to raise funds.
“The mission is to help kids make friends, have fun and build confidence,” Pitts says. “And it is to provide those same experiences that other kids get growing up, for these kids.”
I'm not really a very good writer, as my editors will attest to. But this piece I am particularly proud of, because I think I succeeded in getting across the message of what Ryan is all about, and how he's just an illustration of what the vast bulk of veterans are all about. Brotherhood, charity, hard work and love. Ryan's my friend, and I am incredibly grateful for that. I'm enough of a little kid at heart that I'll admit that when he or Sal Giunta (another paratrooper MOH recipient) call me I get all giddy. And when I say Ryan is the nicest dude in the world, I mean it sincerely.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the piece in the Magazine, and the videos. Thankfully, despite my poor writing skills, I've been blessed with a videographer (fellow Legionnaire John Napolitano) and subjects to write about that make it pretty easy. The hardest part of this piece was cutting it from about 3,000 words down to 2,500. If they had given me 15 pages in the magazine I could have filled it with stuff about Ryan. About his views on military service, family, and what makes America so great.
So, if Ryan sees this, thanks for making my job so easy. For everyone else, I hope you enjoy Ryan's story.
(Thanks also to the Pertiles for welcoming us into their home and talking about their visit with Ryan.)