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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nashua Medal of Honor recipient says he’ll be ‘caretaker’ of award

NASHUA – Ryan Pitts never wanted the Medal of Honor. In fact, it’s good that it took six years for the award recognizing his uncommon valor on an Afghanistan battlefield to arrive, because it gave him time to think – to “come to terms with it.”

In a video posted on the Army Times website, the Army staff sergeant said it took a while after first hearing rumors that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor to accept his role in what happened at an observation post in Wanat, Afghanistan, where he ignored his critical shrapnel wounds and continued fighting off 200 insurgent fighters trying to overrun the American position. ...

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NASHUA – Ryan Pitts never wanted the Medal of Honor. In fact, it’s good that it took six years for the award recognizing his uncommon valor on an Afghanistan battlefield to arrive, because it gave him time to think – to “come to terms with it.”

In a video posted on the Army Times website, the Army staff sergeant said it took a while after first hearing rumors that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor to accept his role in what happened at an observation post in Wanat, Afghanistan, where he ignored his critical shrapnel wounds and continued fighting off 200 insurgent fighters trying to overrun the American position.

He said he has come to think of himself as a custodian of the award. It’s not his, he vowed in the video – he is simply the caretaker.

“I’m going to receive it, but it’s not going to be mine. We did it together. No one guy carried that day,” Pitts told an off-screen interviewer. “For me, it’s also a memorial for the guys who didn’t come home. I guess I take comfort in thinking about the award that I’m the caretaker. It’s not mine. I’ll hold onto it for the guys and look after it, but it’s certainly not mine alone.”

Pitts, a 28-year-old Nashua resident and Souhegan High School graduate, will become the ninth living soldier to receive the award thanks to their actions in Afghanistan and Iraq at a July 21 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Pitts will speak with the media at a Q&A session at the New Hampshire National Guard headquarters in Concord on Thursday.

The Washington ceremony will come more than six years after the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. U.S. forces had constructed a Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, and Pitts was stationed there with the 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.

One of deadliest battles of the Afghanistan war erupted during the early morning hours of July 13, 2008, when a barrage of machine gun and small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades pummeled the outpost, killing nine American soldiers and injuring dozens more, according to a story about the award published by the Army Times.

Pitts was hit with shrapnel and sustained a deep wound to his right thigh.

Without the use of his legs, he crawled forward to a fighting position, flung hand grenades at the insurgents and was able to radio updates to commanders.

He then pulled himself onto his knees and began firing a M240 B machine gun, according to the Army Times story.

The story described Pitts as the only contact between the fighting on the front lines and commanders. He was able to direct artillery toward the insurgent fighters. He is credited with playing a crucial role in preventing the enemy fighters from overwhelming the outpost and launching further attacks that would have killed more American soldiers.

Pitts works for a computer software company. He left the Army from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2009, according to the White House.

He joined the Army in 2003 and deployed to Afghanistan while stationed at Camp Ederle in Vicenza, Italy, after training at the U.S. Army Airborne School in Fort Benning, Ga. The Battle of Wanat occurred during Pitts’ second deployment.

In the Army Times video, Pitts talks more than anything about the courage of the other soldiers at the outpost. He talks about men manning turret guns in trucks being heavily targeted by the enemy fighters, two soldiers who ran through a hail of bullets and rockets to try and reinforce the outpost, and the helicopter pilots and crew who defied death by landing during the battle to ferry soldiers to safety.

“Valor was everywhere,” Pitts said, repeating that the medal is not something he ever wanted but will accept on behalf of his unit-mates.

“That’s kind of how I came to terms with it,” he said. “I just think of it as ours. I didn’t earn it. We earned it.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached
at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Cote
on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).