Staff sergeant receives the Silver Star at Hohenfels ceremony
Stars and Stripes May 29, 2008
HOHENFELS, Germany — His combat boots thumping with each step, Staff Sgt. Matthew Ritenour climbed on stage at Hohenfels’ Community Activity Center to accept a Silver Star medal on Tuesday.
Ritenour’s lumbering gait and a scar on his shaved head are reminders of the battle he and 2nd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment fought against 180 Taliban fighters who attacked Forward Operating Base (FOB) Baylough, in southern Afghanistan on Sept. 4 last year. The 32-year-old Chicago native was shot in the head and partially paralyzed during the battle but fought on, encouraging nearby soldiers and using a radio to call in mortar fire on the enemy.
But the ceremony isn’t the end of Ritenour’s journey.
The Army has given him a year to heal, after which he will go before a board that will decide his future career. His goal is to return to the infantry.
After spending time at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Ritenour and his family returned to Hohenfels to welcome Company A back from its deployment in February. Now, he’s headed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., so he can receive therapy not available in Bavaria, he said.
"I still have some problems with high-level thinking and complex problem solving," he said, adding that he failed tests that involved arranging dominos in various patterns.
Intensive rehabilitation has restored much of Ritenour’s movement on his right side, which was paralyzed after the bullet entered his brain. But he still has problems moving his leg, he said.
"The ankle doesn’t work so well, so I have to kind of pick it up and stomp it down to walk. I used to play football a lot but I can’t do that because I can’t sprint," he said.
Ironically, doctors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center initially told him that his leg would recover fully but that his arm would have problems.
"They’ve told me I won’t get back to 100 percent but I’m already further a long than I was told I would ever be," he said.
In accepting the Silver Star, Ritenour thanked his family for supporting him during rehabilitation. He also thanked the other members of his platoon. "I have this Silver Star because they were able to do their jobs. I didn’t defend the FOB myself by any measure. It was a team effort," he said.
Ritenour’s wife, Nancy; daughter, Natalie (3); father, John; and mother, Kathleen, joined him on stage as he received his medal from Joint Multinational Training Command chief Brig. Gen. David R. Hogg.
His mother said the family realized how lucky they were after seeing other war wounded at the Naval Medical Center.
"He had his mind. He could speak and he was breathing on his own, which is so much more than a lot of men have left. Walking through the halls of Bethesda we realized how lucky we were," she said.