Medal of Honor Recipient Ryan Pitts makes his remarks during the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, 2014
By JAMES CLARK on June 10, 2016
Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts talks about the value in sharing a war story you’d rather keep to yourself.
For Ryan Pitts, the Medal of Honor is a reminder of the sacrifices made by the 48 American soldiers he fought alongside during the Battle of Wanat.
On July 13, 2008, while deployed to Kunar province, Afghanistan, with Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, Pitts participated in a battle where Taliban fighters launched a major assault on a small U.S. Army patrol base.
Nine American soldiers were killed in the attack and 27 wounded, including Pitts, a sergeant at the time.
The battle began around 4 a.m. when Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler near the village of Wanat came under attack from approximately 200 enemy combatants armed with mortars, heavy machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. While the attack was focused on the patrol base, Pitts’ position at Observation Post Topside bore the brunt of the attack.
In the first 30 minutes of the battle, most of the soldiers at Topside were incapacitated, and Pitts was injured after a wave of rocket-propelled grenades slammed into their position. Despite his severe injuries from shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs, he fought on. Pitts rotated between manning a machine gun and cooking off grenades, which means holding them long enough so that when they are thrown they detonate before they can be thrown back. He continued to call in situation reports even when the enemy was close enough for him to hear voices.
Despite being close to unconsciousness, Pitts continued to communicate with the unit’s headquarters, and called in danger close strikes within 10 meters of his position. An hour and a half after the attack began, a casualty evacuation crew landed under enemy fire to retrieve the wounded. Pitts was medically evacuated along with several others, while the remaining soldiers and recently arrived reinforcements continued to fight off enemy forces for several more hours before Observation Post Topside and Patrol Base Kahler were finally secured.
Pitts was medically discharged in 2009 and almost immediately after leaving the Army began attending college at University of New Hampshire at Manchester. He graduated in 2013 and now works in business development. On July 21, 2014, Pitts was awarded the Medal of Honor and is one of 11 living recipients from the war in Afghanistan to receive the military’s highest award for battlefield bravery. Pitts is also the third recipient of the medal of Honor from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, alongside Salvatore Giunta and Kyle J. White
When Pitts recounts the events of that day, his retelling doesn’t focus on his actions. He speaks almost entirely about the men he fought alongside, men who time and time again, ran through enemy fire to come to his aid.
Pitts spoke with Task & Purpose about what it’s like to retell the story, how his perspective has changed since that day, what it means to serve in combat, and the value of military service.
After you received the award, how much of your time was spent talking about the event?
So I was awarded it in 2014, and so day to day, it’s really not that much. I’d say monthly it depends because it’s still evolving. I work a nine-to-five job and it’s just kind of as I can fit stuff in there’s certain things that take priority — that I want to go talk about.
For me, top of my list is the traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress for veterans, kind of those invisible wound type things. You know, my perspective is, it’s just raising awareness about the resources that are out there and just encouraging vets that if they need to go talk to somebody, go do what they have to do to live the lives that they’ve earned.