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Ryan M. Pitts

Born 1985, Lowell, MA. Entered service at Boston, MA. 

American forces were stretched thin in Afghanistan in 2008, but nowhere was the line thinner than in the isolated and vulnerable outpost of Wanat. Newly arrived in Wanat, Ryan Pitts and his team were low on water and supplies as they struggled in 100-degree heat to build up their small base in the shadow of mountains 10,000 feet tall on every side.

Just 48 American soldiers and their 24 Afghan counterparts were guarding the base when the battle, one of the fiercest of the war, broke over them. Just before dawn on July 13, 2008, a force of at least 200 insurgents attacked a contingent of nine men posted on a rise of rocks and sandbags just above the main base. Machine guns, mortar and rocket-propelled grenades battered their position and blew up a base vehicle that sent missiles flying toward the men on the ridge.

Four Americans were already dead when Pitts, bleeding badly from wounds to one arm and both legs, made his stand. Over and over, Pitts pulled the pins on grenades and held them as long as possible before throwing them. Unable to stand up, he manned a machine gun from his knees and held his position until soldiers from the main base made a bold dash to join him on the hill. 

Insurgents broke through the wire, killing or wounding eight defenders and leaving only a wounded Sgt. Pitts to hold the position and prevent destruction of the base below. Running out of ammunition, and with the enemy so close he could hear their voices, he radioed the base, speaking in a whisper so they wouldn’t know he was alone. “I was going to die,” he said later, “and made my peace with it.” 

Almost unconscious from blood loss, he grabbed a grenade launcher for a last stand. The enemy was so close he had to fire almost straight up to hit them. Reinforcements arrived just in time to fight off an insurgent positioned just above them but could not prevent more rocket-propelled grenades from striking the post. 

Still surrounded, Ryan Pitts stayed on his radio, redirecting air strikes that were hitting dangerously close. With his direction, the air strikes turned the battle and allowed the Americans to hold their ground. Without Ryan Pitts, said a teammate, the outpost “almost certainly would have been overrun.”

Ryan Pitts joined the Army at 17 under a delayed entry program. His first tour in Afghanistan, in 2005, lasted 12 months. It was during his second, 15-month deployment that he went to Wanat. Pitts left active duty in 2009. He earned a degree in business from the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. He now works in business development in the software industry and lives in New Hampshire with his wife.

He has called the Medal of Honor an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to tell the story of his teammates who shielded their comrades with their own bodies, risked their lives to carry away unexploded missiles and fought through injuries while under heavy fire, and the pilots and MEDEVAC crews who risked their lives to rescue them. And it’s “a memorial for the guys who didn’t come home,” the nine who died, Pitts says, who lived and fought for each other as brothers.

“It’s not mine alone. It belongs to everybody who was there that day, because we did it together,” Pitts says. 

Click here to see video of the Medal ceremony at the White House or the Medal of Honor press conference. You may see an extended interview from PBS here and Sgt. Pitts’ appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Citation: Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Forward Observer in 2d Platoon, Chosen Company, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade during combat operations against an armed enemy at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler in the vicinity of Wanat Village, Kunar Province, Afghanistan on July 13, 2008. Early that morning, while Sergeant Pitts was providing perimeter security at Observation Post Topside, a well-organized Anti-Afghan Force consisting of over 200 members initiated a close proximity sustained and complex assault using accurate and intense rocket-propelled grenade, machine gun and small arms fire on Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. An immediate wave of rocket-propelled grenade rounds engulfed the Observation Post wounding Sergeant Pitts and inflicting heavy casualties. Sergeant Pitts had been knocked to the ground and was bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to his arm and legs, but with incredible toughness and resolve, he subsequently took control of the Observation Post and returned fire on the enemy. As the enemy drew nearer, Sergeant Pitts threw grenades, holding them after the pin was pulled and the safety lever was released to allow a nearly immediate detonation on the hostile forces. Unable to stand on his own and near death because of the severity of his wounds and blood loss, Sergeant Pitts continued to lay suppressive fire until a two-man reinforcement team arrived. Sergeant Pitts quickly assisted them by giving up his main weapon and gathering ammunition all while continually lobbing fragmentary grenades until these were expended. At this point, Sergeant Pitts crawled to the northern position radio and described the situation to the Command Post as the enemy continued to try and isolate the Observation Post from the main Patrol Base. With the enemy close enough for him to hear their voices and with total disregard for his own life, Sergeant Pitts whispered in the radio situation reports and conveyed information that the Command Post used to provide indirect fire support. Sergeant Pitts' courage, steadfast commitment to the defense of his unit and ability to fight while seriously wounded prevented the enemy from overrunning the Observation Post and capturing fallen American soldiers, and ultimately prevented the enemy from gaining fortified positions on higher ground from which to attack Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts' extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company C, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade and the United States Army.