President Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Afghan War Hero

Former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts honored at the White House for his actions during the battle of Wanat.
29:43 | 07/21/14

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Transcript for President Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Afghan War Hero
All around -- that you know -- is. -- I think cult -- -- kept my time. So that everything you can -- either getting on. He said there wasn't anybody to send just because of the way that the fight was everywhere there weren't the only ones getting hit -- -- the GOP. So okay then this positions don't fall -- -- the -- I think that evening was really an option for one reason or another and. I don't want to be captured. I'm Michelle Franzen -- New York that was former army staff sergeant Ryan -- Telling just a small part of his incredible story nine of his fellow soldiers died that day. 27 others including pits were wounded this afternoon though heat for his heroic efforts. Will receive the medal of honor from President Obama and we're joined now from the White House by ABC's Mary Bruce Marriott at ceremonies are always moving. And as we hear about the soldiers -- -- it's also bittersweet because the loss sustained during the battle what -- staff sergeant Pitts said about the honor and what it means to him. Good afternoon Michelle we are absolutely right always such a bittersweet event. Staff sergeant Ryan Pitts tells us that while he's being honored with an individual award this is something recognizing what was absolutely a collective effort -- you mention. This was a horrific battle one of the deadliest all of the war in Afghanistan. 27 wounded including hit nine of his -- -- of his Brothers were killed that day he says this. Is an honor that while he will be standing there being recognized today this is -- for -- and for their families and we know that many of the families of his fallen soldiers. Are also there in the room today job. An ABC spoke with hits and a -- how being a father has impacted his memory of that day -- -- He told us the weight of that attack is absolutely. Changed everything now that he is a father. And keep in mind his -- is only one year old right now but he said that when the time is right. He wants to sit down his son and tell him. All about that day and all about. The men that he fought with because he says that he is keenly aware. That he would not be here today without them and he certainly would not be able to be a father. If it wasn't for the man who saved his life that married Bruce thank you wanna join President Obama now he's beginning to speak. And at the white. Now there's an army is deep in the valley. When they were attacked by some 200 insurgents. Those insurgents seem determined to overrun. And even smaller post just outside the -- and elevated patch of boulders and sandbags. Defended by just nine American soldiers. Soon. Under the relentless fire all nine of these men were wounded or killed. Insurgents broke through the wire. That -- post was on the verge of falling. During the enemy -- perch from which to devastate the baseball. Against that onslaught. One American help a -- This 22 years -- Nearly surrounded. Bloodied but -- The soldier we recognize today -- -- our nation's highest military decoration the medal of honor staff Sargent Brian. That's. Now. I don't want to embarrass. Ryan but the character he displayed that day was clearly forged early. I'm told that a kindergarten when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up you draw a picture of a soldier. When he was in fifth grade his teacher sent home a note -- describe Brian words would be familiar to all those who norm today. Ryan she wrote is a very special human being. And right -- -- humility and loyalty that defined America's men and women in uniform. This metal he says it's not mine -- The -- everybody was there that day because we did it together. So are welcome those who were there that day. Brian's Brothers in arms and those who welcoming. Are going to be welcoming him into the ranks. The members -- medal of honor society. We are very proud of them and we are honored by the presence of the families -- fallen heroes as well. We welcome -- family. -- from New Hampshire including his wonderful wife Amy. I have to take a pause because. They are actually celebrating Ryan and -- their second anniversary today. As Ryan put -- it's going to be tough topping this one. As anniversary go but. Let me just -- -- -- -- -- somebody has now been married for over twenty years you should try. I'm just -- don't don't rest on your laurels. After just two years. We welcome their gorgeous. One year old Lucas. -- Ryan has began to teach a love for all things New England. Of course the Red Sox and the Bruins. And the Celtics. And the pats. I want you to try to match an extraordinary circumstances in which Ryan and his team -- This was the summer of 2008 and this is a time when our forces in Afghanistan were stretched thin and our troops. Were deployed to isolated outposts. They had just arrived in wanna. I just days before and they were still building there's very small base. A handful of armored vehicles and fighting positions. In foxholes and sandbag us. One -- one report later concluded had significant vulnerabilities. Parts of the village set on higher ground on every side mountain soared 101000 feet into the sky. Heavy equipment. To help build their defenses was delayed. In the hundred degree -- the soldiers ran low on water. And the aerial surveillance there were counting on was diverted -- to other missions. Early that morning in the predawn darkness they spotted several men of the mountains. But before Ryan and his team could take action the entire valley erupted. Machine gun fire and mortar and rocket propelled grenades poured down from every direction. Those 200 insurgents were firing from -- and from the village and from trees. Now the base of vehicle exploded scattering its missiles back at our soldiers. It was set a soldier hell on earth. Up another -- post Ryan as team were being -- Almost instantly every. One of them was wounded. -- was hit by shrapnel in the arm and both legs and was bleeding badly. Already three American soldiers -- -- had fallen and then a fourth. As the insurgents moved -- Ryan picked up grenade pulled the pin and -- that live grenade from moment another. That another finally growing -- so they couldn't throw it back. And he did that again and he did it again. Unable to stand Ryan pulled himself up on his knees and manned a machine gun. Soldiers from baseball whoa made during run dodging bullets and explosions. And joined the defense but now the enemy was inside post. So close they were throwing rocks -- the Americans. So close they came right up to the Sanders. Eight American soldiers have now fallen and Ryan Pitts was the only living soldier of that post. Demi was so close Ryan could cure divorce. He whispered into the radio he was the only one left -- was running out of -- I was gonna die -- -- and made my peace with many prepared to make -- last stand. Bleeding and barely conscious Ryan threw his last grenades. He grabbed a grenade launcher and fired nearly straight up so that grenade came back down on the enemy just yards away. One insurgent was now right on top of the post shooting down until another -- Americans. Showed up and drove him back. As one of his teammates said had it not been for Ryan -- that post almost certainly would have been overrun. Even with reinforcements the battle was not -- another wave of rocket propelled grenade slammed into the post. Nine Americans were not wrong. And still fighting raged. Ryan worked -- radio helping target the airstrikes that were hitting danger close just yards away. From what those strikes the title battle began to turn. Eventually the insurgents go back. Ryan -- -- -- Held their ground. This metal Bryant says is an opportunity tell our story. There was valor everywhere record right. And so today we also pay tribute to all served with such -- that day. Shielding their wounded buddies with their own bodies. Picking up unexploded missiles with their hands -- -- -- Running through the gunfire to reinforce that post -- Fighting through their injuries and never giving up. Helicopter pilots medevac crews who came in under heavy fire. Said one soldier never in my career have I seen such bravery and sacrifice. And so I would ask all those who served one up on the ground and in the air to please stand those of you were here today. Most of all Ryan says we consider this metal memorial for the good president come home. Today we honor nine American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for assault. The son -- -- loved like a sponge. Expectant father whose dream would later come true. Beautiful baby girl. Specialist Sergio about. The boy who dominated the soccer fields. Fell -- love of motorcycles and there in that remote outpost took a direct hit in the -- and kept on fighting. Corporal Jonathan -- The photographer whose beautiful pictures captured the spirit of the Afghan people who wrote to his family Afghanistan is exactly where -- wanted to be. Corporal Jason over. Father grew up surfing with the -- the platoon leader who led a dash through the -- to that post. To reinforces men. First lieutenant Jonathan -- -- An immigrant from Mexico became a proud American soldier on his third tour whose final thoughts were of his family and his beloved wife Wesley. Sargent. Israel Garcia. For young man of deep faith who serve god and country could always get a laugh -- his impersonation. Of his commander. Corporal Jason. Paul -- The husbands who couldn't wait to become an uncle the adventurous spirit. -- every photo from Afghanistan as big smile on a space corporal Matthew Phillips. The big guy. With an even bigger heart. A prankster whose best player was cleaning up poker table -- buddies and is -- corporal. Pruitt Rainey. And the youngest just twenty years old the little brother of the platoon who love to play guitar and who says dad did everything is like -- passion. Corporal. Gunner -- These American patriots live to serve us all. -- god protects each of us. Their legacy lives long in the hearts of all who loved him still especially the families. Mothers fathers wives Brothers and sisters sons and daughters. To -- their families. I'm no no words can match. But the depth of your loss but please know that this nation will honor your soldiers now and forever. And I would ask for gold star families from that deployment please stand including. Alec Taylor age eleven and -- roster of who's this week -- twelve. -- -- This is the story Ryan wants us to remember. Soldiers who loved each other like Brothers and fought for each other. And families who made a sacrifice. That our nation must never forget. Ryan says I think we owe it to them. To live lives worthy of their sacrifice. And is absolutely right. As commander in chief I believe one of the ways we can do that is by heeding the lessons of one -- When this nation. Since our troops in harm's way they deserve a sound strategy and -- well defined mission and they deserve the forces and support to get the job done and that's what we old soldiers like Ryan and all the comrades that. -- lost. -- how we can truly honor all those who gave their lives. That day. That's how this nation we can remain worthy of their sacrifice. I know that's a view that shared by our secretary of defense. And buyer -- Joint Chiefs of Staff and all the leadership here. Very hard lessons but the ones that are deeply ingrained in our hearts. It is remarkable. The we have young men and women serving in our military. Who day in day out are able to perform. -- -- so much integrity. So much. Humility and so much -- And Ryan represents the very best of that tradition. And we are very very proud of him as we are of all of you. So god bless -- -- god bless all who serve. In our name. May god continue to bless the United States and Merck and -- that like altered to. -- -- -- The president of the United States of America. Authorized by act of congress march 3 1863. Has awarded in the name of congress the medal of honor to sergeant Ryan -- hits the united states army. For conspicuous gallantry in -- pity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sargent Ryan and -- 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 second platoon. Chosen company second battalion airborne. 503 infantry regiment. 173. Airborne brigade. During combat operations. Against an armed enemy -- vehicle patrol based Taylor. In the vicinity of why not village -- and our province Afghanistan. On July 13 2008. Early that morning while sergeant Pitts was providing perimeter security at observation posts topside. A well organized anti Afghan force consisting of over 200 members initiate a close proximity sustain and complex assault. Using accurate and intense rocket propelled grenade. Machine gun and small arms fire on why not vehicle patrol base. An immediate wave of rocket propelled grenade rounds -- -- the observation posts wounding sergeant -- and inflicting heavy casualties. Sergeant -- 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 -- the observation posts and returned fire on the enemy. As the enemy drew near. Sergeant -- threw grenades holding them after the -- was poll. And the safety lever was released to allowing 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 -- suppress the fire. Until a two man reinforcement team arrived. Sergeant -- quickly assisted them by giving up his main weapon in gathering ammunition. All while continually lobbying fragmentary grenades until these were extended. At this point sergeant -- crawled to the northern position radio. And described the situation of the command posts as the enemy continued to try and isolate the observation posts from the -- 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 -- situation reports and conveyed information that the command -- used to provide indirect fire support. Sergeant Pitts courage steadfast commitment to the defense of his unit and ability to fight was seriously wounded. Prevented the enemy from overrunning the observation post in capturing fallen American -- And ultimately prevented the enemy from gaining fortified positions on higher ground. From which to attack why not vehicle -- patrol base. Sargent Ryan and -- extraordinary heroism and selflessness. Above and beyond the call of duty. -- keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself. Company C. Second battalion airborne 503 infantry regiment 173. Airborne brigade and the united states army. It's not meant to -- enough room. Let us Brett. The -- we know our hearts and our faith in you with the firm conviction to live with humility. And confidence and strength and from our -- admiration. As a sergeant Pitts exemplary service. Is bravery and devotion. -- to wash your favorite and our nation and may remain strong and safe. A free land may sell by brave soldiers who defend her on our shores. And far away outposts even today. And guide us in our lives so that we might remain worthy of their trust and respect. Even as they remain faithful and their service. All this we prayed -- blessed and holy name. Well back concludes -- official part of the ceremony but we still have a big anniversary party. The White House I understand has prepared some pretty good metal -- and some beverages and so I hope everybody enjoys -- reception. I want it once again thank all who've served. And the families of those who served. You make us proud every single -- and -- To Ryan and -- and then Luke. We wish you all the very best because what an extraordinary family unit and the the pleasures of a family were puzzled by this young man -- -- thank you very much or when it published a -- President Obama preventing former army staff sergeant Ryan -- Medal of honor tomorrow sergeant -- heads to the. Pentagon policy heroes analytical -- -- the Pentagon with ABC's -- Martinez who was also listening to this. Lily -- was wounded in what has been described as a controversial matter of one year -- investigated. By the military what went so wrong that day. Have you heard from the president say their work. Got enemy fighters on the hill tops on the mountainsides. Right above where this observation post was. There was drone act as if there was -- -- the overhead that were diverted. On there are other issues in an all led to whether there was command. Responsibility for this attack in other words were commanders. Negligent in establishing this outpost in such an exposed position. I -- you remember this is not the first time in -- in Afghanistan. Where American troops felt in great numbers. Because of location location other outposts where they were exposed position part of that because of the counterinsurgency program that the military was pursuing at the time. But being active in being located near villages and large towns. But that kind of exposing what ended up happening here want to. -- the battalion commander in another senior commanders will receive reprimands after much investigation. Eventually those reprimands rose to the level of the army secretary who rescinded them so in the end no one was punished but this is a very controversial battle. In the sense that these troops are exposed and we heard the numbers of individuals were there at that base their 48 Americans there. That day. Nine died and 27 were wounded and the majority I would -- almost all of the survivors were there when president asked them. In that the White House to stand today quite a quite a scene. It -- and get an idea -- what changed though as a result. Of the investigation into this battle. Well it not only as a result of the investigation but as a result of what happened at this battle and a cop Keating. There was any closing on these -- bases out there in 2 provinces in eastern Afghanistan current queen art and their -- These were facilities over to expose the real a lot of conflict going on. In these two particular promises. And ultimately -- that happening is that a lot of those exposed them military bases were closed the military -- a different strategy. -- moving in clearly quickly with airborne forces. To -- regions and then pulling back so they were no longer is exposed as they work during this timeframe. In Afghanistan another thing to -- Michelle this is he heard in the name of the unit there that the the second battalion of the 503. This is the third medal of -- that that battalion has received for that one deployment in 2007. And 2000 -- eight. They were based in those two bit provinces -- and are an -- stand. Suffered extreme amounts of conflict and -- -- and and now you're seeing results here part of that heroism with this third medal of honor for the -- And certainly a -- a battle on that date -- spoke to ABC's Jordan Phelps and she asked him about that moment. His feelings as the enemy drew closer let's take a listen. Brief scare. Initially and then. When I thought about it is always on take me alive and so wasn't as scared anymore it's what became near. Your mission at that point trying to take as many in the enemy with me before. It was my time -- -- -- going into yet those. The other guys have died fighting I owed it to him to do the -- housing on take me alive and so. -- -- trying to fight shot a grenade launcher. Try to use it -- a tree straight up in the air. It's like -- drop and indirectly into -- thought the enemy was called down to you -- First squad where they were out. And asked anybody to concede you'll Peta issued over the tops of the sandbags to keep the enemy if -- tried to. To breach the actual fighting positions. -- it would be able to crest the top of the -- Acts of heroism that were recognized today how rare. Is a story like this Americans that an outpost in Afghanistan nearly run out -- -- overrun by insurgent fighters you mentioned this isn't the first time that happened but how often did it happen. It -- enough times that is received a medal honor it's and recognition for the medal of honor. Other than several incidents cop Keating being the most famous -- 11. As well regarding job it -- for all exposed to places or units that were on patrol. And they were ultimately exposed but one and that. Keep things -- hear hear about the heroism of American service members. In Afghanistan is how they -- they held -- positions as showing extraordinary heroism. I think is quite poignant when we heard the president talk about how. At one point -- looked around. And then saw that he was -- only surviving member of his squad still at this observation post and -- kept on going. And during this risky maneuver where he basically pulled the -- is and -- in effect short fusing them. So that it when he -- them over they wouldn't impact immediately. Not getting the Taliban fighters the opportunity to throw that coming back potentially hurt him even further -- -- remember that. He had initially been wounded. One and his fellow soldiers tied a tourniquet around his leg saving his life. That other soldier eventually. To give them a fell to his wounds as well but he just extraordinary heroism that day on the part of kids. And the squad -- who cannot make. And the brotherhood that he refers to -- the White House has been criticized for taking too long to recognize medal of honor. Recipients it took six years to recognize. Staff sergeant -- why did it take so long as -- because this was such a controversial battle. And -- not so sure about the controversy around this panel but in. There's been criticism that. The that record keeping award for whatever reason it can record keeping is being too exacting. In other words they're prior instances back in Somalia weren't -- -- lotteries authorized for two. Service members it in the nine months after the event -- -- big issue this is the famous Blackhawk down incident. So there's quite a backlog of work and has been done with. The -- -- incidents inside Afghanistan. This one for -- six -- six years after his heroism two months ago we had another. Medal of honor ceremony with Kyle light. Hint he -- his two -- his award -- six months afterwards but there has been around an uptick in the last year or so in the number of recipients for the awards. That seems to indicate that the the -- that at the White House released the military's hearing. The criticism that more that these acts of heroism need to be honored quickly -- -- much quicker fashion. And President Obama also recognizing more living recipients -- the medal of honor and how rare has this been in the past. Well let's think about what happened with President Bush President Bush when he was president he gave out five medals of honor. None of those -- to living recipients. Now we have the people living recipient of the medal of honor all of them come under the Obama administration. I think that is -- has Morgan to do with. The honoring in the research that has to be done. By the military to mean -- that. These -- acts of terrorism can be approved and can be. Awarded partly in what in such fashion. -- of course it that there really is no. This no guiding line here whether one has to be living recipient or. Has died in battle he what is going to go to the third -- originally went 178. So -- posthumous award giving -- being given threw away a living alone recipient. I think it's going to be -- -- in the coming years because. That it has the -- -- now we may see even more awards coming. And the president also in addition to telling its story of that day -- is. Married also this that the father of a one year old son and actually celebrating his -- -- anniversary today ABC's -- Martinez at the Pentagon. Thank you very much. Keep up with the story in real time by downloading the ABC news happens star in this story for exclusive updates on ago. For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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