How do these mere mortals perform feats that seem superhuman? What goes through their minds? What makes them tick?
In the case of Ryan Pitts, a 28-year-old former Army staff sergeant from Nashua, N.H., it appears to be loyalty to his band of brothers — especially those who didn’t make it.
Last week, Pitts became the ninth living veteran of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive the nation’s highest decoration for battlefield valor, the Medal of Honor.
President Obama spoke for all Americans during the medal ceremony, praising Pitts for holding the line as his comrades fell in one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan war.
“It is remarkable that we have young men and women serving in our military who, day in and day out, perform with so much integrity, so much humility and so much courage,” the president said. “Ryan represents the very best of that tradition.”
Indeed he does.
In his case, bleeding from both legs and an arm, Pitts kept firing at about 200 Taliban fighters in the Battle of Wanat, a tiny Afghan village near the Pakistani border. He single-handedly held them off from his observation post and prevented the enemy from taking the high ground, which would have been devastating to his buddies in the outpost below.
Nine U.S. soldiers died in the battle on July 13, 2008; another 27 were wounded. According to the Washington Post, subsequent investigations into how it could have happened laid blame at least in part on senior commanders for sending the troops to set up a new outpost in the closing days of a long deployment. The unit did not have enough construction materials or water, despite numerous reports that enemy fighters in the region were preparing for a massive attack.
But soldiers can’t pick their commanders. Instead, they follow orders. They do their jobs and hope to make it out alive.
Their courage is boundless. Their selflessness is inspiring. They make us proud.