President Obama on Tuesday awarded the Medal of Honor to an Army Ranger for his courageous actions during combat in Afghanistan, only the second time since the Vietnam War that a living service member from an ongoing conflict has received the distinction.
Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, now 31, was shot through both legs and lost his right hand after tossing aside a live grenade during a 2008 firefight in Afghanistan’s Paktia province. His body was also riddled with shrapnel, according to Army field reports, but his actions spared the lives of fellow Rangers.
In an emotional ceremony at the White House, Obama said Petry’s bravery was “the stuff of which heroes are made.”
“We honor a singular act of gallantry,” he said. “Yet as we near the 10th anniversary of the attacks that thrust our nation into war, this is also a time to pay tribute to a soldier — and a generation — that has borne the burden of security in a hard decade of sacrifice.”
Petry did not speak during the ceremony, but afterward, he told reporters that “to be singled out is very humbling.”
“I consider every one of our men and women in uniform serving here, abroad, to be our heroes,” he said.
Only four other service members have been awarded the Medal of Honor for action in Afghanistan, and only one of them — Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta — was living when he received it.
Over the past decade, Petry has deployed eight times to war zones — twice to Iraq and six times to Afghanistan — and has been awarded two Bronze Star Medals and a Purple Heart, among other honors.
At the time of the firefight in Paktia, in eastern Afghanistan, Petry was attached to a helicopter assault force with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Members of the unit had been deployed to raid an insurgent compound when they came under AK-47 fire.
One round went through both of Petry’s legs, and another hit a Ranger near Petry in his armor. Petry, according to Army field reports, led his comrade to safety behind a nearby chicken coop before reengaging in battle.
He was near the chicken coop when a grenade tossed by insurgents exploded nearby, wounding two Rangers. When yet another grenade landed near the pair, Petry moved quickly to throw it in the direction of the insurgents. It detonated near his right hand.
Petry assessed the wound and placed a tourniquet on his own wrist, according to the Army field reports. He then reported to his comrades that he was still in contact.