A US Army Ranger who grabbed an enemy grenade and tossed it away from his fellow soldiers during a battle in Afghanistan will receive the nation’s highest award for valor, the White House announced Wednesday.
Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, an Army Ranger originally from Santa Fe, N.M., will be only the second living recipient of the Medal of Honor for “acts of gallantry” in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan when President Obama bestows the honor at a White House ceremony July 12.
The other living recipient, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, a rifle team leader in the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, was awarded the medal last September for rescuing a wounded fellow soldier from enemy hands during a skirmish with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in October 2007. Seven other service members have received the medal posthumously for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sergeant Petry, a father of four who now serves with the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., as a liaison for wounded soldiers, is credited by fellow Rangers with saving their lives during a May 2008 battle in Paktia, Afghanistan. Petry lost a hand and sustained other injuries in the fight.
“If not for Staff Sergeant Petry’s actions, we would have been seriously wounded or killed,” Sgt. Daniel Higgins, a Rangers team leader in the Paktia battle, later reported in a statement, according to an Army News report.
The Medal of Honor is awarded to service members who “distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.” In its statement, the White House noted that, to be considered eligible for the nation’s highest military service award, “the meritorious conduct must involve great personal; bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life.”
Petry deployed eight times to the two wars since the 9/11 terror attacks, two tours in Iraq and six in Afghanistan. [Editor's note: The original version misstated Petry's number of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.]
The rarity of the Medal of Honor’s bestowal for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan – only nine times in nearly a decade of war – speaks more to the change in the kind of warfare being practiced than to any reevaluation of when the medal is deserved, military experts say.
The nation’s highest military honor was awarded 464 times for actions in World War II, and in 246 cases in the Vietnam War. Not only were the scales of those two conflicts different – at the height of the Vietnam conflict, 500,000 troops were deployed with sometimes 1,000 casualties a month – but close-range combat was much more frequent, military experts say.
Which is not to say that fighting involving acts “above and beyond the call of duty” has been rare in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Petry was on an unusual daytime raid whose mission was to capture a high-value target when the events leading to his award occurred.
Petry will be accompanied by his wife Ashley and other family members when he receives his medal, the White House says.