Portrait of Valor: Hero of Afghanistan Sgt. Jared Monti Wins Medal of Honor Posthumously

Killed trying to rescue injured comrade three times, soldier receives top honor.

ByABC News
September 15, 2009, 5:09 PM

Sept. 17, 2009— -- America's newest hero was recognized today by President Obama who awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for bravery, to Sgt. Jared Monti who died last year while repeatedly trying to reach a wounded comrade during a firefight on an Afghan mountaintop.

Citing Monti's determination and remarkable courage, Obama told a White House ceremony, "Sgt. Monti did something no amount of training can instill."

When soldiers in his unit tried to tell Monti the hail of Taliban gunfire was too fierce to make a third try to rescue the wounded soldier, Obama cited the sergeant reply: "He is my soldier and I'm going to get him."

"Jared became the consummate NCO - the non-comissioned officer caring for his soldiers, and teaching his troops," remarked President Obama at the ceremony. "He called them 'his boys,' although he was still obviously young himself. Some of them called him 'Grandpa.'"

Monti, 30, was killed by an rocket propelled grenade in 2006. The White House ceremony was attended by other members of the sergeant's unit from the 10th Mountain Division. And the Army's outpost in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan where he was killed was rededicated as Combat Outpost Monti today in a ceremony by soldiers assigned there.

"Jared Monti knew, the Monti family knows, they know that the actions we honor today were not a passing moment of courage, they were the culmination of a life of character, and commitment," Obama said at the White House with the sergeant's parents, Paul and Janet Monti, and over a hundred of his family members and friends in attendance.

"He was the teenager who cut down a spruce in his yard so a single mom in town would have a Christmas tree for his children. He even bought the ornaments and the presents," Obama continued. "He was the soldier in Afghanistan who received care packages - including fresh clothes and gave them away to Afghan children, who needed them more."

Paul and Judy Monti accepted their son's medal, which features a gold star surrounded by a wreath, suspended by a star-emblazoned blue ribbon. Prominent between the medal and the ribbon is the simple epitaph "VALOR."

The medal, presented "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity ... above and beyond the call of duty," was the sixth awarded since Sept. 11, 2001.

Monti's family has been repeatedly surprised by his gallantry through the years.

Soon after their son died his father Paul found hidden in his son's bedroom drawer a bronze star, five Army commendation medals and four Army achievement medals.

"He never told anyone he won them. He was always very humble. He didn't want accolades. He didn't want medals. He wanted his work to speak for itself. When he was a kid he was never one to jump up and down and say 'look at me,'" said Paul Monti.

Left on a narrow ridge longer than expected while on an intelligence-gathering mission, Monti and the 15 men under his command found themselves ambushed by a surprisingly large enemy force, who were so close when a firefight began that the Americans could hear the insurgents whispering around them.

The attack came so quickly that just as Monti ordered the men to set up a defensive position behind a pile of rocks, "RPGs came in fast and furiously, skipping off rocks and exploding in the trees above our heads," said Sgt. Christopher Cunningham, a sniper who was part of the squad.

"There was so much machine gun fire that trees were being split by the bullets all around us and the branches were catching shrapnel like catchers mitts," he said.

In the midst of the firefight, while calling for air support and firing his own weapon, Monti realized one of his soldiers was wounded in the area between the advancing Taliban fighters and his squad.

"With complete disregard for his own safety," an Army report notes, three times Monti ran into oncoming fire in an attempt to rescue the soldier, Pvt. Brian Bradbury.

On the third attempt, he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that blasted his legs and killed him.

"It's normal for a guy to go out there and try to rescue someone once. But to go again is unheard of," said Cunningham. "To go a third time -- either you're getting him or there's no coming back. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen ever."

Bradbury, severely injured and unable to move, was eventually reached by medics in a helicopter, but the winch broke and he fell to his death.

For the Army, Monti's bravery is a story of martial heroism.

For some observers, like author John Krakauer, who was embedded with Monti's squad for five weeks, his death is also an example of a needless military screw-up that left Monti's crew stranded on the mountain for three days, and a lack of helicopter support in Afghanistan at the time. In 2006, much of the war effort had been diverted to Iraq.

For his parents, Monti's death is painfully sad. They are proud of their son, but hesitant that his death will be misconstrued and unnecessarily politicized.

But while his death came as a shock to his family, his selflessness was not a surprise.