WASHINGTON -- Nearly 12 years after Travis Atkins made the ultimate sacrifice, the Defense Department inducted him into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
One day after President Trump awarded him the Medal of Honor, senior Army leaders lauded the actions of the late staff sergeant, who bravely shielded his men from the blast of a suicide bomber while patrolling the outskirts of Baghdad.
"A common man would have succumbed to the very human instinct to seek cover," Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper said to a Pentagon auditorium audience Thursday.
The morning of June 1, 2007 he had engaged an insurgent in hand-to-hand combat. As Atkins attempted to subdue the combatant, the Soldier noticed the insurgent reaching for the pin of a suicide bomb vest beneath his clothing.
Knowing he faced certain death, Atkins used his body to smother the insurgent to ground and protect his fellow Soldiers.
"[Atkins] thought only of the lives of his men," said Gen. James C. McConville, the Army's vice chief of staff. "He did what he knew had to be done and he sacrificed himself, his dreams, his goals, his aspirations, and his future so others could fulfill theirs."
"Where does that courage and selflessness come from, we often ask ourselves?" said Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist.
Atkins developed those traits during two deployments to Iraq. Atkins, a Montana outdoorsman and skilled hunter, found his true calling in the ranks of the infantry. He passed on opportunities in the civilian and military ranks to remain on the front lines with the brothers he enjoyed teaching and protecting.
"Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins was the ideal Soldier," said McConville, who was commissioned as an infantry officer. "Exactly the type of person every infantry commander wants in their formation."
Atkins deployed in 2003, during the onset of the Iraqi invasion and again in the midst of the surge from 2006-2007. He was in Iraq when President George Bush called for an additional influx of U.S. troops to provide security to Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province.
At the time of his death, Atkins served as a squad leader in the 10th Mountain Division. He had previously survived two roadside bombs, Esper said.
In 2013, Fort Drum renamed its fitness facility after Atkins and honored his actions in a special ceremony attended by his parents, Jack and Elaine. Atkin's former unit, Second Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment also dedicated a memorial in his honor.
"His commitment to his country and to his brothers in arms serves as a lasting example that will inspire Soldiers for generations to come," Esper said.
Atkin's son, Trevor Oliver, took the stage with his grandfather to reminisce on the qualities that made his father a selfless leader.
"Being a Soldier was his life," Oliver said. "And he was the blueprint for an amazing Soldier. And I am eternally thankful for him."
He recalled his trips with his father to the wilderness of Montana, where they enjoyed hunting, fishing and riding their snowmobiles.
"We would snowmobile and go out in the mountains to places no one else sees," Oliver said. "We would climb things that we were not supposed to be climbing. [We] would go in places a lot of people would not go."
Atkins during that June morning, certainly did.