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.

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.

Medal of Honor Winner Was No Rambo

Jared Monti was born in Abington, Mass., on Sept. 20, 1975. He grew up in Raynham, a small town outside of Boston. His father was a teacher and his mother a nurse.

"I don't want him remembered as GI Joe or Rambo, just hell-bent on killing the enemy. That's not him at all. He was a humanitarian. Everywhere he went he left people feeling respected no matter what their status," said his father Paul.

Even as a boy, Paul said, Monti was generous and selfless, always looking to help and rarely looking for credit.

As a teenager he asked permission to cut down a spruce tree in his family's yard. Paul figured he was going to put it up at school, but instead Monti gave it to a single mother who couldn't afford a Christmas tree.

There were other hidden accolades. Stowed in the back of a closet, after Monti died, Paul found a three-foot trophy his son won at the New England weightlifting championship during his senior year of high school.

"I was totally in shock when I found that. I had no idea he had won a Northeast championship. I drove him to the competition. I remember he came home and said 'it went fine' and gave a shrug," said Paul.

Similarly, Monti never boasted about his exploits on the battlefield.

"He didn't take pride in the fact that he had taken someone else's life," Paul said.

Krakauer, author of the new book "Where Men Win Glory," spent several weeks with Monti and his "kill team."

"He was an old soul. He was 30 years old, but he had been around. He was a forward observer. He killed people and he did it well, but he did it like no one I had ever seen. He would always ask: 'Are these really bad guys?' He wasn't like a lot of the guys over there -- not just gung-ho," said Krakauer, who left Afghanistan the day before Monti was killed and who dedicated his new book to the soldier.

As a boy, Monti was never one to give up quickly. A natural athlete, but one of the shortest boys in his school, Monti tried out for basketball every year, but never made the team. The coach finally relented when he was a senior and Monti quickly became the team's high scorer.

"Jared was not a person of great stature. The army says he was 5-foot-6, but he wasn't a lick over 5-foot-4. He was always discriminated because of his height, so he'd have to work harder than everyone else," said Paul.

"Two things were the measure of his life: No matter what, give 100 percent and never, ever give up. You could see both of those things in his final act. No matter how much was coming from enemy, he was not going to leave his comrades behind."

Just before his 18th birthday, his father signed his papers and Monti joined the Army reserves. At the time he told his father that he knew his family couldn't afford to send him to college, but later Paul found a diary in which Monti admitted that it was seeing an uncle dressed in a crisp naval uniform that inspired him to enlist.

Just after he turned 18, Monti left for basic training in 1993 in Missouri. It was the first time in his life that he had left Massachusetts.

As a young soldier he got into his share of trouble, including a bar fight with a sergeant in Kansas. As he got older, his officers recognized he had what it took to lead men.

And his men loved him for a certain disregard of the rules.

"He was always very respectful, but always had this devilish grin, like you knew he was up to something," said Tom Greer, a retired captain who Monti served under in South Korea in mid-1990s.

Sgt. Monti's Final Mission

"He was pretty unique. Very focused, a great sense of humor, but always dedicated," said Greer who remembered Monti's enthusiasm and the seriousness with which he did things like march and drill.

Though technically a forward observer, whose primary job was to scope out enemy positions and call for airstrikes, in Afghanistan Monti found himself being called on to play a host of roles.

"He was great with the Afghans, so some captain would pull him to negotiate with the Afghans – who just loved him. He was great with new guys, so he'd be pulled to break in new guys," said Krakauer.

"He was not an impulsive guy. He was calm under pressure. But he also had this really cool anti-establishment streak. He'd be on a three-day mission and wouldn't shave, wouldn't blouse his boots. He was fit and he liked to show anyone he could keep up and kick their ass," said Krakauer.

In the weeks he spent with him, Krakauer said he was most impressed by Monti's ability to quickly size up a situation.

On patrol one day, a beat-up Toyota came barreling towards them and a young private trained his rifle on the Afghan driver and ordered him to stop. The car didn't stop. Monti ordered the soldier to drop his weapon and stepped into the road. The Toyota stopped and was searched and the driver went on his way.

"That could have been a really bad situation. But something clicked and Monti knew this car wasn't a bad guy," Krakauer said.

Under the cover of darkness, Monti and his team set out on the night June 17, 2006.

The perilous mission for the 300 members of the 71st Cavalry Regiment was to secure steep mountain passes in southern Afghanistan that were hundreds of miles from their base, leaving them often exposed and far from help.

Monti's 16-man squad was ordered to climb to the top of mountain overlooking the strategic Gremen valley, survey the area, and call in airstrikes on enemy positions.

On June 21, halfway up the mountain, Monti learned over his radio, that the Army had diverted troops and helicopters to another part of the country and the U.S. assault would be delayed by three days.

Short on food and water and left on a ridge, the Army sent a helicopter to deliver supplies so they could wait out the assault.

"But there was bad communication between the helicopter and those of us on the mountain," said Cunningham who was in charge of the team's snipers.

"The helicopter exposed our position. It flew over the enemy and then it flew over us. We knew they knew where we were sitting. We needed to make a decision: climb down or climb up. It was a hell of a climb either way," he said.

"While discussing it, the enemy hit us. I've been through a lot of fire fights and some pretty serious contact with the enemy, but that that was more intense than anything I'd ever experienced. We were quickly overwhelmed and fell back to our position, behind some rocks and trees on the edge of a ridge," he said.

The men were surrounded by up to 80 insurgents, many of them members Hezb-e-Islami, a tribal militia affiliated with the Taliban.

The insurgents split into two groups and began closing in and flanking the Americans.

Monti radioed another squad, gave their position and called for artillery support.

"He was working the radio and I remember hearing him and thinking how can he sound that calm," said Cunningham.

Sgt. Monti's Third And Final Rescue Attempt

Monti looked up and saw the insurgents closing in fast, some 30 feet away. He threw a grenade to hold them off.

Taking a head count he realized Sgt. Patrick Lybert, 28, from Ladysmith Wis., had been shot under his body armor and was dead, slumped in front of the rocks from behind which the rest of the squad was firing.

Brian Bradbury, a 22-year-old private from Lowville, N.Y., was missing.

Over the din of the fight, Monti called out for Bradbury. From a ditch some 20 feet away Bradbury responded saying he was alive but could not move.

The private was directly in between his comrades and the insurgents, right in the middle of the enemy's line of fire.

Monti dropped his weapon, jumped over the rock wall and ran towards Bradbury.

He came within a few feet, but the insurgents spotted him and began shooting at him before he could reach the wounded private. He ran back to the wall and took cover.

After a moment to catch his breath he ordered the squad to give him cover and jumped over the wall again to rescue Bradbury.

"We laid out as much fire as we could," said Cunningham. "When he came back the second time, he said: 'I think Bradbury's dead. We called out again and Bradbury responded. So Monti said he was going to try to get him a third time."

"The enemy was amazed he was running again. We were shooting with everything we had to give him cover. He threw a grenade and went out a third time. But this time the enemy had a bead on him. They were ready. They hit him with an RPG," said Cunningham.

Monti fell back to the wall, his legs nearly blown off his body.

"Monti told us he was good with God and to tell his family he loved them. It was pretty horrible," Cunningham said

"Within seconds of that, the artillery he called in started raining down," he said.

"Monti's selfless act of courage rallied the patrol to defeat the enemy attack," reads the Army report on the incident.

The artillery and bombs from a helicopter dispersed the fighters – 22 insurgents were killed -- but it was not until after dark that a helicopter came in to pick up the injured Bradbury and the rest of the squad.

As he was being lifted into the aircraft to be flown to a field hospital, the winch broke and Bradbury and a medic Staff Sgt. Heathe Craig, 28, from Severn, Md., both fell to their deaths.

Bad news traveled fast. It was At 9:45 p.m. one day and a world away from that mountain ridge when Paul Monti was at home sitting on his sofa and watching "America's Got Talent."

"There was a knock at the door. It was the front door but I thought it was the back. I opened the back door and peaked around a saw that car in the driveway. There were two men in uniform on my stoop and they started walking towards me," Paul said.

"I knew why they were there. I had dreams about that car pulling into the driveway too many times not to understand. They didn't even need to tell me."

In July, three years after his death, President Obama called Paul at home and invited him to Washington to receive his son's Medal of Honor.

"Jared never wanted medals," said Paul. "This is a great, great honor, but I'd rather my boy was still alive."

ABC News' Kristina Wong contributed to this story.

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