By Bob Reinert/USAG-Natick Public Affairs July 23, 2014
NATICK, Mass. (July 23, 2014) -- About an hour north of Natick Soldier Systems Center resides the nation's latest Medal of Honor recipient.
Ryan Pitts, a 28-year-old former staff sergeant from Nashua, N.H., was honored Monday by President Barack Obama for what he did against a numerically superior enemy force in Afghanistan July 13, 2008 as part of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The story of that day has been told many times, but Pitts has never wavered from insisting that the real heroes at Observation Post "Topside" near Wanat Village in Kunar Province were fallen Chosen Co. members Spc. Sergio Abad, Cpl. Jonathan Ayers, Cpl. Jason Bogar, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Jason Hovater, Cpl. Matthew Phillips, Cpl. Pruitt Rainey, and Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling.
Pitts expressed that sentiment again Tuesday in a media roundtable held at the Pentagon.
"I think about it every day," Pitts said. "I think about the guys more often. Most of the time, I just think about what we did together. And I'm always kind of awestruck.
"I was there. I saw some of these guys do what they did. It's still … unbelievable to me."
The families of those men were on hand for the White House ceremony. Pitts called each of them to make sure they knew that he wanted them there.
"I told them I meant it when I said this (honor) isn't mine, that your loved one helped bring me and us home," Pitts recalled. "And I'm not just saying that because they're gone. It's the truth.
"I communicated … that it was important to me that their loved ones brought me home, some of them indirectly with their actions and many of them directly. And so they had an absolute right to be there."
A graduate of Souhegan High School in Amherst, N.H., and the University of New Hampshire at Manchester, Pitts left the active-duty Army in 2009. He now works in business development for a Burlington, Mass., computer software corporation.
"I love the military, and it really shaped a lot of who I am," Pitts said. "And I don't think there'll ever be a point where I'm transitioned (to civilian life), because it's kind of the benchmark against which I measure all other experiences that I have."
Pitts, a Lowell, Mass., native who grew up in Mont Vernon, N.H., decided early on what path his career would take.
"I had always wanted to serve, from the time I was very young," Pitts said. "As my senior year (in high school) drew to a close and I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my future … I just thought what better way to spend my time than serving my country?"
Asked how equipment researched and developed at Natick performed on that day, when 27 Soldiers were wounded in addition to the nine killed, Pitts responded positively, especially about the Advanced Combat Helmet.
"I mean, (Corporal Jonathan) Ayers took a round in the helmet and was able to continue fighting," Pitts said.
Ayers, 24, died later in the fight. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal.
"I've known, personally, probably at least two other Soldiers that their helmets had withstood rounds," Pitts continued. "Body armor was great. I didn't have any issues with equipment on that day."
Pitts was critically wounded during the battle and spent a month in the hospital and a year in physical therapy, but he downplayed his wounds.
"The aftereffects for me are pretty minor," he said. "I think there's a lot of service members that have been wounded a lot more seriously than I was."
Pitts acknowledged that a sense of responsibility came with the Medal of Honor.
"For me, my family comes first," Pitts said. "And then this responsibility is very important to me. I'm sure it's going to take time for me to find out what that balance is.
"I absolutely feel a responsibility -- first, to the guys, the guys that didn't come home, the guys who can't tell their story. Next, to everybody else that was there with me that day, to tell our story."
And Pitts included all the other service members who have been involved in the Global War on Terrorism.
"I think we all feel a connection," Pitts said. "I feel a responsibility to them."
Despite that, Pitts remains the reluctant hero.
"I never wanted anything," Pitts said. "The awards are just metal and cloth, and I know what we did that day. And I know it's more than an award. And that's always been enough for me."