Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for July 11, 2011 - Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry -
Medal of Honor Edition

Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry

Current Unit: Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th Ranger Regiment
Current Position: Liaison Officer for the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition—Northwest Region
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Hometown: Santa Fe, N.M.
Years of Service: 11

The Ranger Creed describes a warrior who readily displays the intestinal fortitude required to fight on and complete the mission, though he be the lone survivor. During a deployment to Afghanistan in 2008, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry characterized those words on the battlefield, displaying true courage in the face of enemy fire and risking his own life to carry out the mission.

For his unflinching perseverance and selfless sacrifice overseas, the Army Ranger was awarded the Medal of Honor today. It is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the United States Armed Forces, and is given only to the bravest of the brave. In all, nine individuals have received this medal for service in Iraq and Afghanistan—and of those, Petry is the second living recipient.

“The Medal of Honor is reserved for the guys who change the face of the battlefield,” said Petry.

With this medal, the President of the United States conferred on Petry the title of “hero,” and the Ranger is truly humbled by this honor.

“To me, a hero is anyone who serves and is willing to sacrifice part of their life for the defense of the nation. It is hard to think of myself as a hero when I have my own heroes,” he said.

Yet his actions that day proved that Petry was a hero of the highest caliber—one who displays immeasurable courage and uncommon valor even in the face of grave danger. His actions demonstrated the meaning of loyalty, selfless service and bravery. The courageous decisions he made as a leader ultimately saved lives and inspired fellow Soldiers to fight on against overwhelming odds.

On May 26, 2008, the squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was conducting a mission in rural eastern Afghanistan with his unit to capture a high-value insurgent target. Early in the mission, the squad came under heavy enemy fire and Petry was shot in both legs. Despite his wounds, the Ranger gallantly continued fighting alongside his brothers in arms. When an enemy hand grenade landed just inches away, Petry grabbed it to protect fellow Rangers. As he released the grenade to throw it, the explosive detonated and he lost his right hand.

“I saw the enemy grenade land near me and I knew what I had to do,” he said. “I wanted to eliminate the threat because I knew it could not only kill me, but the other Rangers as well.”

Following initial treatment overseas, Petry was evacuated to the United States to receive extensive medical care. He spent nearly a year at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, recovering, rehabilitating and adjusting to life with a prosthetic hand.

Army-developed medical innovations are revolutionizing trauma care on and off the battlefield and have increased the survival rate of our Soldiers.

“The medical care in theater has improved so much. Ten or 15 years ago, I would have died in combat, and even five years ago, they would have given me a hook. But now, they gave me a prosthetic that lets me be almost back to normal,” he said.

His prosthetic hand relies on muscle contractions above his elbow to control the hand’s movement.

“Since it uses the same muscle groups as before, it functions pretty close to the real thing,” he said. “I am almost back to normal. I can shake hands again, and it feels great to use my right hand for that.”

Petry does, however, continue to have lingering pain from shrapnel wounds and the traumatic amputation.

“That will be a part of my life forever, but I try not to let it distract me too much from daily life,” he said.

Originally from Santa Fe, N.M., and a graduate of Saint Catherine’s Indian High School, Petry has served with the 75th Ranger Regiment for the duration of his career. For 11 years, he has been part of the Army’s direct action raid force—a team that is lethal, highly-trained and experienced. As an Army Ranger, he was individually selected and expertly trained to succeed in the most difficult conditions against the most dangerous enemies. Petry has completed an estimated 230 combat missions and deployed eight times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom—including six times to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq.

“No two missions are ever alike, and you have to be prepared for all situations,” Petry said. “Even after one hard mission, you have to drive on for the next mission. It all goes back to the Ranger Creed—we follow it and live by it every day.”

For Petry, being a Soldier is more than a job; it is a profession. Not even the severity of his wounds could deter him from answering the call to duty. Currently, he is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th Ranger Regiment, where he serves as a liaison officer for the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition—Northwest Region, providing oversight to wounded warriors, ill and injured service members and their families.

“I try to encourage other Soldiers based on what motivated me. My first visitor in the hospital was a double above-the-elbow amputee, but she had a great attitude and showed me that I had nothing to complain about,” he said. “So I try to tell the other wounded Soldiers that if you’re still breathing, it isn’t going to be that bad. You can recover.”

Petry lives with his wife and four children near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. He is also pursuing a business management degree from Pierce College.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Petry has previously received the Bronze Star Medal twice and a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat.

For more information about Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry and the Medal of Honor, please visit www.army.mil/medalofhonor/petry.

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