July 22, 2014 -- CSA's remarks at Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts Hall of Heroes induction ceremony
July 22, 2014
Good Morning. It's my distinct privilege to be here today to honor Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts, who joins a rare fraternity of military service members who have displayed extraordinary acts of valor during exceptional circumstances, with great risk to their own personal safety.
Staff Sergeant Pitts embodies the essence of a Soldier and represents what every man and woman who dons this uniform strives to be … an individual who has earned the trust of all with whom he associates; one who possesses a humility and selflessness that we all respect; one who embraces esprit de corps and routinely demonstrates a dedication to his profession that epitomizes the ethos of the American Soldier. In the face of imminent danger, he always put his mission first. He never quit. He never accepted defeat. And Above all else, he never left his fallen comrades.
Today, we are here to honor Staff Sergeant Pitts, but we must never forget the sacrifices of the nine Soldiers lost on July 13, 2008 at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler and OP Topside. We remember:
• PFC Sergio S. Abad
• CPL Jonathan R. Ayers
• CPL Jason M. Bogar
• 1LT Jonathan P. Brostrom
• SGT Israel Garcia
• CPL Jason D. Hovater
• CPL Matthew B. Phillips
• CPL Pruitt A. Rainey
• CPL Gunnar W. Zwilling
We also remember Sergeant First Class Mathew Kahler, Sergeant Pitts' Platoon Sergeant who was killed in action on January 26, 2008, after whom the Vehicle Patrol Base was named.
We are honored to have some of their family members with us today. We will never forget the dedication, commitment, and sacrifice of your husband, son, brother, or grandson. Would the family members please stand to be recognized at this time.
I would also like to recognize with us:
• Senator Shaheen from New Hampshire
• Senator Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire
• Representative Ann Kuster from the 2nd District of New Hampshire
• Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work
• Secretary of the Army John McHugh
• GEN(R) Gordon Sullivan the 32nd CSA
• SMA Raymond Chandler
• Our Assistant Secretaries of the Army, General Officers, Sergeants Major
• Other distinguished guests from our Department of Defense and Army leadership that are joining us here today
• I would also like to recognize MOH recipients: Col(R) Harvey Barnum Jr., 1LT(R) Brian Thacker, and SSG(R) Kyle White.
• I'd like to extend a special welcome to Sergeant Pitts's family and friends: his wife, Amy; his son, Lucas; his grandmother Kathleen, Father and Mother-in-Law Michael and Claudette, and his brother Scott.
It's also appropriate that we recognize the members and leaders of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, "Sky Soldiers," who are with us here today. All of us who wear this uniform understand the personal nature of combat and the complete reliance we have on our brothers and sisters in arms. And, your presence today reinforces these strong bonds formed under extraordinary conditions. That's who determines who we are as Soldiers, the bonds that are formed during the most difficult times. And we are proud of your service and all that you have done. Would you please stand to be recognized at this time.
In combat, you never know what each day might bring. What you do know is that you must always be ready, mentally and physically. But some days are simply very different than others. That day for Sergeant Pitts and elements of Chosen Company, 2-503rd Infantry Regiment was very different. In the early morning twilight, insurgents moved into fighting positions overlooking Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler and Observation Post Topside, which was about 100 meters above the patrol base.
Sergeant Pitts, the forward observer, was manning OP Topside, with a team of eight others. That morning, Soldiers at the Vehicle Patrol Base identified enemy fighters on a hillside west of Wanat. As Sergeant Pitts and Sergeant Matthew Gobble prepared a request for indirect fire, an estimated 200 insurgents launched a full-scale assault.
The attack began with a volley of machine-gun fire from a two-story building on a terraced hill, but quickly swelled into an all-out assault with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades thrown at very close range. Within minutes, everyone at OP Topside was wounded, and several were killed, and that was just from the first volley of fire. Sergeant Pitts received grenade shrapnel in both legs and his left arm.
Sergeant Pitts was thrown toward the northern position in a blast. Seeking cover, he crawled to the southern end of the observation post. There, Corporal Jason Bogar applied a tourniquet to his right leg. Specialist Tyler Stafford informed him that the northern position was destroyed and Corporal Matthew Phillips and Corporal Gunnar Zwilling had both been killed. Sergeant Pitts immediately returned to the northern position, where grenades were stored.
With enemy fighters moving up to take the OP, he threw grenades into the draw just beyond the perimeter to the north, holding each grenade after the pin was pulled and the safety lever was released to allow a nearly immediate detonation.
Between tossing grenades, Sergeant Pitts updated the company commander, Captain Matthew Myer of casualties and enemy locations. To conserve hand grenades, Sergeant Pitts grabbed the M240-B machine-gun. Unable to stand, Sergeant Pitts blind-fired the machine gun to provide momentary cover, then propped himself up on his knees. Within minutes of his initial report to Captain Myer, the enemy forces destroyed the TOW system and the 120mm mortar firing pit below.
At this point, Sergeant Pitts was the only contact between the command post and OP Topside, and the only person left capable of controlling indirect fire support from FOB Blessing onto targets around his position.
Against overwhelming enemy fires, 1LT Jonathan Brostrom maneuvered an element from the patrol base to the OP. On arrival, Sergeant Pitts gave Lieutenant Brostrom a situation report. Taking Corporal Pruitt Rainey's M-4 with mounted M-203 grenade launcher, Sergeant Pitts continued to send requests for indirect fire while Lieutenant Brostrom, Corporal Jason Hovater, Corporal Bogar, and Corporal Rainey moved to defensive positions.
Minutes later, Sergeant Pitts realized that no other fires were coming from the OP. He crawled silently from his position to the southern perimeter to discover that he was alone. Losing blood, Sergeant Pitts radioed Captain Myer to inform him that he was the last man. Insurgents were in such close proximity to Sergeant Pitts that Soldiers at the command post could hear enemy voices over the radio.
But Sergeant Pitts did not quit. Thinking his position would soon be overrun, he was determined to do as much damage as possible to the enemy. Taking the M-203 grenade launcher, Sergeant Pitts began firing it directly overhead, sending grenades just beyond the perimeter. Over the radio, Sergeant Pitts called for anyone with line of sight to begin firing over his position. Sergeant Brian Hissong at the Casualty Collection Point below answered the call and laying down fire directly over Sergeant Pitts.
While Sergeant Hissong provided suppressive fire, Staff Sergeant Sean Samaroo, Sergeant Israel Garcia, Specialist Michael Denton, and Specialist Jacob Sones moved up from the Traffic Control Point to the OP. There, Specialist Sones treated Sergeant Pitts' injuries when another round of explosions mortally wounded Sergeant Garcia. Sergeant Pitts crawled to Sergeant Garcia and comforted him until being moved from the open to the OP's southern end.
Sergeant Pitts, nearly unconscious, radioed Captain Myer the needed feedback to direct the first helicopter attack run on insurgents only 30 meters north of the OP. This allowed Soldiers at the Vehicle Patrol Base to move a third group of reinforcements up the terraces.
After fighting for nearly two hours, Sergeant Pitts was medically evacuated and the OP secured. Sergeant Pitt's incredible physical and mental toughness, his determination and resilience, and his ability to communicate with leadership while under heavy fire allowed U.S. forces to hold the OP and turn the tide of the battle.
Today, we induct Staff Sergeant Pitts into the Hall of Heroes. He has demonstrated uncommon valor and extraordinary courage under fire. His competence, his commitment to his fellow Soldiers, unit, and the mission, and his incredible character epitomizes the Army Profession and the best of what our Soldiers and our Army represents.
I am moved by Staff Sergeant Pitts' humility, his selflessness, and his respect for his fellow Soldiers. This combined with his gallantry, courage, and determination under chaotic conditions separate him from others. His lasting legacy will be all of those he has influenced by his actions. We honor Staff Sergeant Pitts, a man of courage and conviction. But by honoring him, we also honor those heroes who fought so selflessly by his side. The bonds formed in combat between our brothers and sisters are everlasting and difficult to describe to someone else. But it's that inspiration that drives ordinary Soldiers to do extraordinary things. And on this day, a group of ordinary Soldiers did extraordinary things.
The strength of our Nation is our Army
The strength of our Army is our Soldiers
The strength of our Soldiers is our Families
And this is what makes us Army Strong!
Thank you all for coming today and God bless America.