Medal of Honor awaits Army Ranger who lost hand saving other lives
Scripps Howard News Service
The radio message was short and devoid of details. But it was enough to let the Army Rangers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state know that Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry and others were in trouble.
"Hey," Petry said, "my hand is gone."
After being shot in both legs and losing his right hand in a display of uncommon valor in Afghanistan, Petry continued to bark orders at the fellow Rangers who responded to the scene of the attack.
"He was yelling at the medic to loosen up the tourniquet on one of his legs because that was I guess what was most painful to him," Sgt. 1st Class Jerod Staidle, Petry's platoon sergeant, recalled Thursday.
Petry's "conspicuous gallantry" will be honored July 12, when President Obama presents him with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for combat valor.
Petry, 31, is the ninth service member to receive a Medal of Honor during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and only the second of those who lived to see the honor.
The actions for which he'll be honored occurred May 26, 2008, when he was pinned down against a chicken coop with two other Rangers during an assault on a compound in the Paktia province of Afghanistan.
An enemy fighter tossed a grenade at them. Petry grabbed it and threw it back -- in time to save his comrades, but not his hand.
"We would like to say that every Ranger would do that given the exact same situation, but you're never going to know that until he's placed in that situation," said Master Sgt. Steven Walter, a senior noncommissioned officer during the mission. "We're extremely proud that (Petry) did react in the manner that he did because he definitely saved lives that day."
Staidle, Walter and another Lewis-McChord Ranger, Master Sgt. Reese Teakell, provided information about their fateful mission during a news conference last week at the battalion's local headquarters.
Petry will make no public statements until his ceremony next month, the Army said.
His three fellow Rangers praised the married father of four for his split-second reaction. They described him as a selfless leader and mentor who played a key role in establishing his platoon when a new Ranger company was formed at Lewis-McChord in October 2007.
They said he was hard-working, almost to a fault, joking that when Petry charted out routes for missions, his unit often found itself going around or over a mountain and always found water.
"He's a happy-go-lucky guy," Walter said. "He always has a smile on his face. He'll make you laugh every time."
On that day three years ago, the Rangers participated in a helicopter raid to hunt down an unidentified terrorist. About 40 of them infiltrated several compounds. The terrorist escaped before the Rangers' arrival but was killed later, they said.
During the clearing operation, an enemy fighter wounded Petry and Pfc. Lucas Robinson in an outer courtyard and they took cover against a chicken coop, according to an unclassified PowerPoint presentation by the Rangers.
Sgt. Daniel Higgins joined them to evaluate their wounds.
The enemy fighters then threw two grenades and one landed among the three soldiers.
"He (Petry) could have moved himself around the corner of the building ... and saved himself but then the other two Rangers would probably be dead," Staidle said. "He put his own life at risk to grab that grenade and throw it around the corner to save all three of them."
Neither Robinson nor Higgins attended Thursday's news conference. They have left the Army and are attending college, officials said.
Two other Rangers, including Spc. Christopher Gathercole, came to their aid. Gathercole was shot in the head and died. Three enemy fighters were killed in the courtyard.
The Rangers said Petry continues to enjoy fishing, golfing and skeet shooting -- and has specifically designed attachments to his prosthetic to help him.
Walter said Petry is committed to continuing his career in the Army.
Staidle said Petry is honored and humbled by the nomination and never hesitates to answer questions about his injury or show how his prosthetic works.
Although his legs continue to bother him, Staidle said Petry has participated in 5-kilometer runs and completed a 20-mile road march with his former company 18 months ago.
"You can tell he's proud of what he's done," Staidle said. "He hasn't let it go to his head ... He knows what he did was the right decision."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)