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Heroes 2011

Petry saved his fellow soldiers, but lost his right hand

Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry was already a decorated war hero before his final deployment to Afghanistan. He had spent 28 months on battlefields in that country and in Iraq, earning two Bronze Stars and three Army Commendation Medals.

But that final deployment brought even greater peril, and his courageous response — which fellow soldiers said saved them from certain death — ultimately earned him the nation’s highest military honor.

Petry, 31, will receive the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony in July, becoming only the second living recipient of the medal from the current wars. The Army Ranger, who now works as a wounded warrior liaison helping other injured soldiers, is the fifth man to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.

Petry, now a sergeant first class, shied away from the spotlight immediately following the announcement, declining interviews but releasing a statement calling the honor “humbling.”

A native of Santa Fe, N.M., Petry joined the Army in 1999, shortly after graduating high school.

In little more than a decade, his Army career took him to Iraq twice and to Afghanistan six times. By his last tour, Petry was an Army Ranger, serving with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

On Memorial Day in 2008, Petry’s company was assigned a dangerous and rare daylight raid of an insurgent compound in Paktia, a volatile border province in southern Afghanistan.

According to Army battlefield reports, soldiers rushed the compound, cleared one section and regrouped to plan the fight ahead. Petry and Pfc. Lucas Robinson moved to clear a courtyard that had been skipped in the initial assault.

When they entered, enemy fighters opened fire. Petry was hit by a round that went through both legs. He and Robinson dove behind a chicken coop for cover.

The soldiers called for help and returned fire. Team leader Sgt. Daniel Higgins crawled to their position and began treating Petry’s wounds.

Two other Rangers entered the courtyard to counter the threat, but before they could reach the coop, the three soldiers taking cover there were knocked to the ground by an enemy grenade blast. Shrapnel pelted Robinson and Higgins. Petry gathered himself just in time to see a second grenade land a few feet from them.

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Without hesitation, he grabbed the grenade to toss it away. As he did so, the grenade exploded in his hand, severing the lower part of his right arm.

Later, in a statement to service officials, Higgins said that without Petry’s quick action, none of the men would have survived.

Shaking off the pain, Petry tied a tourniquet to his arm and kept barking out information to his fellow soldiers. One of them, Spc. Christopher Gathercole, was fatally wounded in the ensuing gunfight. But the other soldiers eventually killed the enemy fighters.

In recommending Petry for the Medal of Honor, members of the company said Petry’s sacrifice helped turn the tide of the battle and saved at least four soldiers’ lives.

Today, Petry serves as a liaison officer for the U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, working with wounded and sick servicemembers and their families.

Several of those wounded warriors are expected to attend his Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House on July 12, along with soldiers who were with him in Afghanistan, his wife and their four children.

shanel@stripes.osd.mil
Twitter: @LeoShane

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