July 22, 2014 -- SecArmy's remarks at Staff Sgt. Pitts' Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony
July 22, 2014
Thank you all so much for coming. Chief, Sergeant Major, Mrs. Chandler, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, yes for being here today to share some thoughts with us, but equally so for what you do each and every day for our men and women in uniform of all of the services.
I want to add my words of welcome to a good share of the New Hampshire Congressional delegation here today. Senator Ayotte, Senator Shaheen, of course Representative Kuster, thank you again, as you did yesterday at the White House for sharing in this special, special moment.
And as the Chief noted some very special individuals as well, the members, past and present of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd ABCT. The "Chosen Few," Ryan's former outfit. They are a storied bunch of Soldiers and we are deeply honored to have them here today - particularly the 36 who were on the ground that day at Wanat and the 16 aviators who are also here, that, on that day, provided close air support and medevac services. And we have asked them to stand. But I would ask all of us again to recognize them with an incredibly deserved round of applause.
It is always wonderful that present Medal of Honor awardees join in these ceremonies to welcome a new member into their ranks. As the Chief rightly noted, we are again blessed to have three such individuals. Marine Col. Harvey C. Barnum, former Army 1st Lt. Brian Thacker, and former Army Staff Sgt. Kyle White. Gentlemen, as always, your presence and your welcoming arms are so very important.
To the former Chief of Staff of the Army Gordon Sullivan, sir, thank you for your service in the past and what you continue to do especially for the men and women and families of this United States Army.
Now, I need to state the obvious, we would not have an event, we would not, in all likelihood, have a hero if it were not for the love and support that Staff Sgt. Pitts has received from his family and friends, principally, Amy his wife, their little boy Lucas, who is happily indulging in a bottle - and we hope it lasts throughout the ceremony. The continued love of Ryan's grandmother, Kathleen; Ryan's brother Scott; Amy's parents; and all of the good folks who have joined, not just in this moment, but have joined him throughout his entire life. And I want each of you to recognize that we recognize each of you in your own unique and important ways has helped make Ryan the hero he has become.
And as we heard at the White House yesterday, Amy and Ryan celebrated yesterday, their second wedding anniversary. The President, wise man that he is, gave Ryan some wise advice. Even though the anniversary and the awarding of the Medal of Honor happened on the same day, he told him 'don't rest on your laurels. You've got to continue to do better.'
So, I know you want to follow commander in Chief's advice, so just a little hint, there's a very nice jewelry store right here in the Pentagon. You might want to take Amy there and put something historic around her neck, perhaps. That will help make the President's recommendation come true.
To the good folks of Nashua, New Hampshire, welcome. Population: 86,933. I suspect that number is significantly diminished here today. I've been to Nashua. It's a great community. It's not unlike my hometown, Watertown, kind of nestled against the Canadian border in northern New York. Now, I know in Nashua like we do in Watertown you have four seasons: almost-winter, winter, still-winter, and pot-hole-repair-season.
The folks who call northern Virginia home think that they have it good. But I'll tell you, those brave folks from New Hampshire have more miles on their snow blowers than most of you do on your cars. So, we are thrilled that you are here and sharing in this special moment.
As the Chief has said, the Battle of Wanat was as ferocious as it was heroic. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan war. And yet, while it was surely a place of unspeakable sadness, it was also a place of incomprehensible valor. It's a place where honor, and courage, and conviction never wavered. Where commitment to ones' fellow Soldiers was paramount. Where, as Ryan has described, "Valor was everywhere."
But consistent gallantry has always been a historical landmark of this great U.S. Army and the unselfish men and women whom we are so blessed to have fill its ranks.
And, as all of us know, the true strength of America's Army is today, as it's always been, not in our hardware, not in our high-tech weaponry or secret programs, but it lies instead in our Soldiers. Our volunteer Soldiers -- Soldiers like Ryan.
So it is incumbent upon all of us -- the living, the beneficiaries -- to draw new strength, to draw inspiration from the gallantry and the selfless service displayed by Ryan and his teammates. And as the Chief noted, that's especially true of the nine fearless Soldiers who fell and the 27 others who were wounded that terrible day.
Our hearts, again, go out to their loved ones, as you've seen, many of whom are with us here this morning. Their sacrifices require from us an equal and unending devotion to their memory and to their cause. It requires the respect, the honor, the glory they have so richly earned through their sacrifice. And again I'd ask that you'd extend to these people who have laid upon the alter the greatest sacrifice, the lives of their loved ones, an overdue round of applause.
In James Michener's book "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," he writes of an officer waiting through the night for the return of war planes to an aircraft carrier as dawn is coming on. And he asks simply, "Where do we find such men?"
I often ask myself a somewhat similar question when I look out over an assembly of gathered Soldiers, particularly a pre-deployment ceremony. Where do we find such men? Where do we find such women?
President Reagan really answered the question when he said, "…we find them where we've always found them. They are the product of the freest society man has ever known. They make a commitment to the military--make it freely, because the birthright we share as Americans is worth defending."
At the Battle of Wanat we found them in places like Aiea, Hawaii, Long Beach, Calif., in Snellville and Jasper, Ga., in Seattle, Wash., in Clinton, Tenn., in Haw River, N.C., in Florissant, Mo., and in Morganfield, Ky.
The hometowns of the nine fallen, the names you heard the Chief speak, the names that can never be spoken too often. Jonathan P. Brostrom, Israel Garcia, Jonathan R. Ayers, Matthew B. Phillips, Jason M. Bogar, Jason D. Hovater, Pruitt A. Rainey, Gunnar W. Zwilling and Sergio S. Abad.
All of them in them in their twenties, the oldest 27, the youngest, just 20. Brothers-in-arms. Men who lovingly served a cause truly greater than themselves. Men who, as Ryan has said, truly considered themselves a family. At times a dysfunctional family perhaps -- just like, really, most of our families. But as Ryan has described, these men were committed to one another; they were committed to their uncommon lives and equally their common challenge. And just like any true family, love and trust laid at the heart of it all.
Now it might seem odd to some to speak the words of love and trust when recounting the brave and bold actions of such rough and tumble warriors. But, make no mistake, their love for each other was real. Even, as it was, in the midst of indescribable chaos.
To be sure, on the day of the Wanat attack, Ryan Pitts was wearing the KIA bracelet bearing the name of Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler , as you heard, a platoon sergeant of 2nd platoon who had died just months earlier. Ryan unabashedly says that Kahler loved his Soldiers. Each and every one of them. Loved them like they were his own kids.
Of that I have no doubt.
At the height of the Battle of Wanat, Spc. Michael Denton and three other Soldiers scrambled up the bullet-rocked terraces of OP Topside to reinforce the position where, as the Chief told you, Ryan had been fighting alone, fighting off the enemy single handedly. Ryan had no idea the four were coming.
The scene was awful, Denton later recalled. He found the body of his 'best bud,' Spc. Jason Hovater, lying there, lifeless. Denton said "I took ammo from Hovater's body, and told him I loved him…" He told him he loved him. Denton then went on to man a machine gun.
Moments later, after another barrage of RPGs tore into the OP, wounding all five of the men, Sgt. Israel Garcia lie mortally wounded. Ryan pulled his close friend to him, his brother. And knowing there was nothing he could do for him, he just laid there and he held his hand.
"We just talked for a while," Ryan said. "He told me he wanted me to tell his mom and wife that he loved them." Ryan later honored that commitment.
So, through all of the chaos, through all of the destruction, we can truly see the love, even in the face of such tragedy, bonds these men and their families. And believe it or not, just as it is on the home front, love and trust are the foundations of this incredible professional Army.
Not surprisingly, today's Soldiers trust each other, they trust the Army and those who fill its ranks, and they also understand the moral dimensions of war. I've heard the Chief speak often about the issue of trust. It is, as he said, the backbone of our professional Army. It's what defines our profession of arms.
Ryan has said he trusted everyone around him. That he'd follow his officers anywhere. That he knew help would come, if humanly possible. He knew it, because he knew he would do the same. He trusted the skills of the Apache pilots who flew and fired danger close to his embattled position.
Love and trust abounds in this Army amongst the men and women who wear the uniform. And we have men like the "Chosen Few" truly to thank for it.
And we have, perhaps most of all, as the President recounted yesterday, the duty - the responsibility to learn the hard lessons, the inescapable lessons of that day.
To better do our part, to put fourth every necessary, every conceivable resource for our Soldiers. To provide them an equal measure of the effort, the incredible effort of the love they so courageously bring forward on behalf of this nation each and every day no matter what the mission.
Today, Ryan has a new mission - as a husband, father and businessman. But he also remains a devoted witness to the valor of others.
The values of heroism, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and audacity that he has taught all of us through his extraordinary Army service. Those are things that are now being taught by example to his son…to his Nashua neighbors…to his civilian work colleagues at Oracle.
Ryan, by the way, my staff recently spoke with the president of Oracle.
We told you we'd always be checking up on you.
That company's president, Mark Hurd, said, not surprisingly, "Ryan is a humble leader who is well liked and respected by his team. He has demonstrated leadership, dedication and a commitment to excellence and we are very proud to have him as an Oracle employee."
Some things never change, Ryan, we are so very proud of all that you've accomplished, both on and off the battlefield. Competence, character, they never grow old.
But nothing is as important to Ryan as the family that he and Amy are raising up there in Nashua. As I mentioned. their wonderful son, Lucas, is certainly testament to that. The bottle is finished and apparently Lucas has gone. But I'm sure that once all of the whirlwind has settled down a bit, they will be anxious to get back to Nashua and back to their everyday lives.
You know, I saw a photograph of Ryan and Amy's living room in some of the recent press coverage and couldn't help but notice that on one wall there was a collage of family photos. And that wall was adorned with the words: Love, Laugh, Live.
Ryan said Lucas will grow up knowing what his teammates did. That he will know their stories. That he will know his Daddy is here thanks to the love, the laughter and the lives of a few good and "chosen" men.
Men and women like those who, thanks be to God, still serve America's Army.
So, Ryan, Amy, Lucas, all of your family, God bless you.
God bless the memories and the families of our fallen and missing.
God bless the United States and this glorious Army that keeps her free.