The Hall of Heroes induction ceremony for former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts left my mind full of images regarding the struggle that occurred that July morning in 2008 in a remote valley located in northeast Afghanistan. As someone said during the ceremony, this fight resembled fights throughout our history when a handful of tough and courageous men defeated a determined enemy that outnumbered them.
As I left the Pentagon, my mind was full of multiple images: pictures of one of the most intense small-unit battles of the still-running Afghanistan war; the stirring tributes which were paid to Staff Sgt. Pitts by senior leaders, and the recognition by Pitts of the role of other leaders who were with him that day; and of the valor shown by members of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the many sacrifices of their fallen and their families who fought alongside Pitts on that fateful day.
All of this was profound, and the longer it went the more profound it became. It was apparent the dominant spirit of the American soldier and their devotion to each other is what caused their victorious achievement that day. None of their success was pre-ordained, and none of it was related to technology, although it was Apache pilots who would fly in support of them. It happened because of the spirit of these men, men such as Staff Sgt. Pitts and his comrades.
The circumstances of the situation in the northeast corner of Afghanistan in early summer 2008 were problematic. Decisions had already been made to withdraw all U.S. forces from the unsettled and remote Korengal and Shuryak valleys. C Company was in the process itself of relocating when it was attacked by a well-armed, overwhelming band of trained Taliban forces committed to the destruction of this small U.S. observation post. Only through sheer will and collective courage by a handful of U.S. paratroopers, aviators and supporting units did this small band of warriors prevail.
Staff Sgt. Pitts was, of course, the spokesman for his comrades, and his humbleness and his courage came through. He focused not on himself but on the actions and sacrifice of others. He even talked about them. He talked about being with one of them as he died. Love was a word used over and over again by Staff Sgt. Pitts. He said he was just the custodian of an award earned by others, and when he said that I believed him.
When he was done, and the chaplain gave his blessing, we all stood to sing the Army song. It was then, as we sang, I thought about the courageous acts of a small group of soldiers in a remote god-forsaken place nobody ever heard of, certainly most Americans, and of their courageous acts. I thought of all the remote places where soldiers and Marines have fought in the past, fueled by love, respect and courage. At the transcendent moment in their lives, they fought and sacrificed for each other, not some abstract thought. They fought for each other, they would not let their buddies down and they succeeded.
Yes, the Army does keep rolling along, but it is only because of the courage of our leaders and our soldiers to succeed. Army Strong.