Former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts received the Medal of Honor on Monday for his heroism during the Battle of Wanat in 2008, one of deadliest clashes of the Afghanistan War.
As President Obama draped the nation’s highest award for valor around Pitts neck at a White House ceremony, the former infantryman said his mind was on his nine “brothers” who fought beside him and died in that battle.
“Standing there, I thought of these incredible men, and those present here today, especially our brothers who fell,” Pitts said in a brief statement after the ceremony. “Valor was everywhere that day, and the real heroes are those who made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us could return home.”
Bolstered by four soldiers who braved gunfire to help hold the position, Pitts called for air support that helped repel the attack and prevented the enemy from taking the remains of his fellow soldiers who had been killed.
1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, 24
Sgt. Israel Garcia, 24
Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, 24
Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, 25
Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, 24
Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, 27
Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey, 22
Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling, 20
Spc. Sergio S. Abad, 21
In an Army Times interview weeks earlier, then-Capt. Matthew Myer, the company commander who was at VPB Kahler that day, said Pitts, who continued to fight and radio in information despite his injuries, was the “linchpin that held that ground.”
An Army statement lauds Pitts’ “incredible toughness, determination, and ability to communicate with leadership while under fire” for allowing “U.S. forces to hold the observation post and turn the tide of the battle.”
Pitts separated from the Army on October 27, 2009, from Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He has since begun work in business development for the computer software industry.
He is the ninth living service member to receive the nation’s highest award for valor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Seven troops have received the medal posthumously for their actions in those wars. Pitts is also the third soldier from 2/503 to receive the MoH for actions during the unit’s 2007-2008 deployment to Afghanistan. Former Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was the first living service member to be honored for his actions in Iraq or Afghanistan; before Pitts, Sgt. Kyle White had been the most recent, in May. All three men deployed together in the same battalion in May 2007 for a 15-month tour in some of the toughest parts of eastern Afghanistan.