Reluctant Hero Ryan Pitts

In July, President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Ryan Pitts during a ceremony at the White House.

Photo by Mike Daigle, NH National Guard

The former US Army paratrooper, who lives in Nashua and grew up in Mont Vernon, became the ninth living recipient of the nation’s highest award for valor in Iraq and Afghanistan. At 28 and six years removed from that morning in Wanat, Afghanistan, when enemy Taliban overran his company’s outpost, Pitts has settled into civilian life. He earned a UNH business degree, works at Oracle and just celebrated his second wedding anniversary with his wife, Amy, and their one-year-old son Lucas. But he thinks about the battle every day and the nine comrades who died fighting alongside him. In countless interviews with local and national media, Pitts has insisted the medal belongs to them.

Why is the Medal of Honor theirs? I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them. They fought just as hard. I have an absolute responsibility to tell their story — Specialist Sergio Abad, Corporals Jonathan Ayers, Jason Bogar, Jason Hovater, Matthew Phillips, Pruitt Rainey, and Gunnar Zwilling, Sergeant Israel Garcia and 1st Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom. The award belongs to them and every man who fought at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler.

You comforted Garcia as he died in your arms. There was nothing we could do for him. He asked me to tell his wife and mother that he loved them. I met them at Walter Reed [where Pitts was recovering from injuries suffered in the battle] and was able to keep that promise.

Garcia and the others were more than just fellow soldiers. They were my brothers. My best friends. After 14 months of combat, we knew each other so well that we could tell each other apart in the dark just by the way we walked. Chosen Company was our family.

At the start of the attack you were injured from shrapnel. You couldn’t walk, but you kept fighting with a tourniquet around your right leg, cooking off hand grenades because the enemy was so close to your observation post.* Did it occur to you that you might not make it out alive? I thought it was my time. My biggest concern was I didn’t want to be taken alive.

So your training kicked in? Yes. Everybody was doing their part to impact the battle. The enemy had the clear advantage. They outnumbered us, they had the high ground and they had the element of surprise.

How has that day changed you? I know I’ve been given a gift and I have an appreciation of life that I didn’t have before. I know now that I am going to live my life to the fullest and enjoy it for those who aren’t here. I owe it to them.

What if Lucas wants to be a soldier when he is older? I’d be very proud of him if he chooses that path. But I want him to follow his own path. I hope that he believes and understands that as an American he has a duty to defend his country, but I’ll be happy with whatever path he follows.

*Cooking off a hand grenade is when you release the safety spoon before throwing the grenade. This allows the fuse to burn a few seconds longer, which allows a shorter time to detonation when it lands near the enemy.

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