A Medal of Honor is the closest thing to beatification the government can bestow. It requires a display of heroic virtue, and may reflect the performance of something close to a miracle. Yesterday, the White House announced that U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Leroy Petry has beome the latest serviceperson to make the honor roll. During a close-quarters engagement with Taliban forces in Paktya, Afghanistan, S/Sgt Petry picked up and tossed away a live enemy grenade that had fallen close to his position. www.usarmy.mil:
the day of the actions that would earn Petry the Medal of Honor, he was to locate himself with the platoon headquarters in the target building once it was secured. Once there, he was to serve as the senior noncommissioned officer at the site for the remainder of the operation.
Recognizing one of the assault squads needed assistance clearing their assigned building, Petry relayed to the platoon leader that he was moving to that squad to provide additional supervision and guidance during the clearance of the building.
Once the residential portion of the building had been cleared, Petry took a fellow member of the assault squad, Pvt. 1st Class Lucas Robinson, to clear the outer courtyard. Petry knew that area had not been cleared during the initial clearance.
Petry and Robinson, both Rangers, moved into an area of the compound that contained at least three enemy fighters who were prepared to engage friendly forces from opposite ends of the outer courtyard.
The two Soldiers entered the courtyard. To their front was an opening followed by a chicken coop. As the two crossed the open area, an enemy insurgent fired on them. Petry was wounded by one round, which went through both of his legs. Robinson was also hit in his side plate by a separate round.
While wounded and under enemy fire, Petry led Robinson to the cover of the chicken coop. The enemy continued to deliver fire at the two Soldiers.
As the senior Soldier, Petry assessed the situation and reported that contact was made and that there were two wounded Rangers in the courtyard of the primary target building.
Upon hearing the report of two wounded Rangers, Sgt. Daniel Higgins, a team leader, moved to the outer courtyard. As Higgins was moving to Petry and Robinson’s position, Petry threw a thermobaric grenade in the vicinity of the enemy position.
Shortly after that grenade exploded — which created a lull in the enemy fire — Higgins arrived at the chicken coop and assessed the wounds of the two Soldiers.
While Higgins evaluated their wounds, an insurgent threw a grenade over the chicken coop at the three Rangers. The grenade landed about 10 meters from the three Rangers, knocked them to the ground, and wounded Higgins and Robinson. Shortly after the grenade exploded, Staff Sgt. James Roberts and Spc. Christopher Gathercole entered the courtyard, and moved toward the chicken coop.
A career soldier, Petry has been serving since 1999. Though the exploding grenade cost him his right hand, he’s remained with the Army, and currently acts “liaison officer for the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition-Northwest Region, and provides oversight to wounded warriors, ill and injured servicemembers and their families.”
Thank you, Staff Sergeant Petry. Judging by your photo, you don’t have a classic infielder’s build, but you sure can turn a double-play when the situation calls for it. More credit to you for that.
Perry is actually the ninth servicemember to receive the MOH for heroism in the War on Terror. (Five of the others have been soldiers; two, Navy SEALs; one, a Marine.) Of that number, exactly one other — Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta — has survived to receive the medal. All others have died in the line of duty. In this respect, the MOH does differ a little from sainthood: to become a saint, you have to be dead. For MOH recipients, the rules are a little more flexible.
“All of us are a little concerned about the fact that people aren’t being recognized,” said Army Reserve Col. Jay Duquette, who recently retired as deputy director of operations at Headquarters, 9th Regional Support Command, Fort Shafter, Hawaii.
“There’s a perception that somehow the political process has at the Defense Department or wherever created some sort of limitation on higher-level decorations,” Duquette said. “I don’t know if that is true. But that is a perception that exists among the lower-level officer corps.”
Former Marine Joseph Kinney, a Vietnam veteran who has advocated for greater recognition of heroism in combat, is convinced that’s true. The military awards system, he said, is “broken.”
Kinney testified before the House Armed Services Committee in 2006, urging the Pentagon to be more consistent in applying award criteria and to speed the review process for Medal of Honor nominees.
In an interview, Kinney noted how much longer award reviews took in the George W. Bush years versus the Clinton administration.
It took just 6½ months for the Clinton administration to posthumously award Medals of Honor to Army Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Army Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart for heroic action in Somalia on Oct. 3, 1993.
By contrast, during the Bush years, the speediest Medal of Honor approval took 18 months. One took as long as three years.
“The system has failed because of this inordinate fear that somebody is going to get the Medal of Honor [and] be an embarrassment,” Kinney said. “They decided that the Medal of Honor should go not only to people who are brave, but pure.”
After Sgt. Rafael Peralta was denied the Medal of Honor in 2008 — a case that drew heavy scrutiny, including use of forensic evidence — questions were raised about whether Peralta’s onetime status as an illegal immigrant played a part in the decision.
Peralta was a scout team member assigned to clear houses during the second battle of Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. Insurgents hiding in one house opened fire, hitting Peralta multiple times, then threw a grenade at him and other Marines behind him. While lying wounded on the floor, Peralta reportedly gathered the grenade beneath him and absorbed the blast, saving the lives of his fellow Marines.
His nomination for the Medal of Honor was approved by the commandant of the Marine Corps and the secretary of the Navy, but nixed at the highest levels of the Pentagon. He was instead awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor — but his family has refused to accept it.
Defense and service officials deny that the process has become politicized. The approach used to recognize acts of valor remains unchanged, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.
“Each recommendation is carefully considered based on the merits of the individual’s actions, eyewitness accounts and other supporting evidence,” she said. “The standard for the Medal of Honor is high, as one would expect.”
I have no idea what to make of this. But you’d think if the Vatican can start up a “saint factory,” the Defense Department could figure out a way to honor these guys before they get too old.