A hero is someone who shows true courage in a crisis while accomplishing the extraordinary. Without question, Ryan Pitts of Nashua is an American hero.
On July 21, the former Army staff sergeant will receive the Medal of Honor for his valor under fire when 200 Taliban infiltrated the Afghan town of Wanat and besieged his observation post. Pitts, gravely injured in the first attack, stood his ground against overwhelming odds. Only the bravest and best soldiers could have withstood that assault. But to appreciate his rare gallantry, one must recognize his devotion to duty throughout the desperate situation his platoon faced at dawn on July 13, 2008. The following account is excerpted and adapted from a Defense Department narrative:
...Sgt. Pitts, the forward observer, was at his position at Observation Post Topside with eight other paratroopers. At approximately 4:20 a.m., they heard machine-gun fire from the north. Then the valley erupted in fire, and enemy fighters launched a full-scale assault.
The insurgents had infiltrated the town and set up firing positions and weapons caches in its bazaar, hotel complex, homes and mosque. The platoon was hit with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades thrown at close range. All nine paratroopers were wounded by the first round of fire.
Pitts received shrapnel from a grenade explosion in both legs and his left arm. He crawled to the southern end of the post, where a tourniquet was applied to his right leg.
Realizing the enemy was in hand-grenade range, Pitts returned to the northern position and began “cooking off” hand grenades – pulling the safety pin, but holding the live weapon in his hand for several seconds before throwing it toward the enemy. This risky tactic prevented enemy forces from throwing the grenades back at the observation post before they detonated. To conserve grenades, Pitts then decided to fire the M240-B machine-gun. Unable to stand because of his injuries, Pitts blind-fired over the waist-high wall of sandbags to provide momentary cover, then propped himself up on his knees to continue laying down fire.
While firing, Pitts stayed in radio contact with his commander, directing artillery fire. When reinforcements reached Pitts’ position, he gave a situation report before exchanging the machine gun for an M-4 with a mounted M-203 grenade launcher. Suddenly, Pitts realized he could no longer hear other gunfire from the OP. Not wanting to reveal his position, Pitts crawled silently to the edge of the perimeter. He found no one left alive. Alone and losing blood, Pitts radioed his commander to inform him that everyone at the OP was dead or gone. He was told that no more reinforcements could be sent.
The insurgents were now so close enemy voices could be heard through the radio. Taking up the M-203 grenade launcher, Pitts began firing it almost directly overhead, placing grenades that would detonate just on the other side of the sandbag wall where the enemy was concealed. Pitts also called on the radio for suppressive fire just over the top of the wall.
Four American soldiers then reached OP Topside. They found Pitts fighting for his life, weakened by blood loss and multiple concussions. As they attempted to treat him, another round of explosions wounded all the reinforcing troops. One was mortally injured. While the others attempted to secure the perimeter, Pitts crawled to the dying soldier and comforted him, holding his hand as his condition worsened, and accepting the responsibility of carrying his last words to his family.
Helicopters then arrived to provide close air support. Nearly unconscious, Pitts called in the first attack run only 10 meters from the friendly troops, turning the tide of battle. After fighting for more than an hour while critically injured, he was medically evacuated.
Ryan Pitts is a worthy recipient of our country’s highest military honor. He is a great American whose story should be an inspiration to all. We salute him.
(The Department of Defense has an impressive multimedia tribute to Pitts and the Battle of Wanat. See it at http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/pitts/profile/index.html.)