Fallen Hero Recognized for Gallantry in Afghanistan
Friday, September 18, 2009
Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti died one sweltering June day in 2006 on a remote ridge in Afghanistan, on his third attempt to creep through pounding insurgent fire to rescue one of his wounded soldiers. Barack Obama was then 18 months into his first term as a U.S. senator, and chatter about his presidential prospects was picking up.
On Thursday, in the ornate East Room of the White House, a somber President Obama recognized Monti with the nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action." It was the first such ceremony for the commander in chief, who has sent 17,000 more troops to fight in Afghanistan this year.
Monti -- whose parents, Paul and Janet, received the award on his behalf -- is the second soldier to receive the medal for combat in Afghanistan. He enlisted in the Army before his 1994 graduation from high school in Raynham, Mass., and was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, a veteran at age 30 whose men in the 10th Mountain Division patrol sometimes called him "Grandpa."
Several who survived that day's attack attended Thursday's ceremony, along with Monti's sister, brother, grandmother and niece, and three previous Medal of Honor recipients. Also in the East Room were Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Monti's congressional representatives; and first lady Michelle Obama.
The president cited in his presentation "words of weight" -- duty, honor, country, service, sacrifice and heroism. "As a people and a culture, we often invoke them lightly. We toss them around freely," Obama said. "But do we truly understand the nature of these virtues?"
Monti himself had wrestled with the weightiness of his responsibilities, particularly when calling in airstrikes, author Jon Krakauer, who had patrolled with his unit, told the Boston Globe.
Obama soberly described Monti's calm in the chaos of battle that fateful day -- June 21, 2006 -- when enemy fire was "so intense that weapons were shot right out of their hands."
With the enemy so close that the 16 soldiers could hear their voices, Monti grabbed a gun and drove the insurgents back once, then threw a grenade when they moved in a second time. An American was down, wounded and in the open. Monti said he would go and get him.
"Jared Monti saw the danger before him. And he went out to meet it," Obama said. "He handed off his radio. He tightened his chin strap. And with his men providing cover, Jared rose and started to run. Into all those incoming bullets. Into all those rockets."
Monti's final words were clear and purposeful: "I've made peace with God. Tell my family that I love them."
His parents have heard the gripping and painful narrative over and over these past three years, each time an award has been conferred on their son, who would have turned 34 this week.
The Medal of Honor was established by an act of Congress in 1862, and fewer than 3,500 have received it. "In our time, these remarkable Americans are literally one in a million," Obama noted. Four Iraq veterans have been recognized, posthumously, for their battlefield bravery.
Gates said before the ceremony that it was "a real source of concern" for him that no Medal of Honor has been awarded to a living service member for acts of courage in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He said he is looking into the matter.
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.