Prosthesis Helps Medal of Honor Hero Stay with Rangers
(July 12, 2011)
|WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 8, 2011) -- "There was a
little bit of a meat skirt, for lack of better words,
hanging around the edges. It was oozing. I could see the
radius and ulna bone sticking up maybe about half an inch."|
The White House
announced May 31, 2011, that Sgt. 1st Class
Leroy A. Petry, now serving as part of
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th
Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., will
receive the Medal of Honor. Photo Credit: U.S.
Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, who will have the Medal of Honor
placed around his neck July 12, 2011, by the president of
the United States, recounted the moment after his hand was
taken from him by a grenade during a May 26, 2008, combat
operation in Afghanistan.|
"It was vivid -- where I
could see the black marks from where the burns were. And a
little bit of the dirt and the smell of explosives. I sat up
and I grabbed it. And it's a little strange," Petry said.
"But this is what was in my mind: 'Why isn't this thing
spraying off into the wind like in Hollywood?'"
that, the seasoned Army Ranger -- who was at the time on his
seventh deployment in support of combat operations both in
Iraq and Afghanistan -- had to take charge of his own
situation, and of the young Soldiers whom he led.
At the time of his actions in
Afghanistan, Petry was assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion,
75th Ranger Regiment out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Petry's actions came as part of a rare daylight raid to
capture a high-value target.
"It's a little out of
the norm," Petry said, of conducting such a mission with the
sun over their head. "It's never a good thing. We don't like
to because our odds are a little lower. But just like any
other mission, we said we're going to go out there and do
what we do. Execute the mission."
unit, he said, runs roughly 400 missions during a four-month
"You can see two missions in one night,"
he said. "That's how busy the ops tempo is. We go out and
come back in and then -- hey, wait, there's something else,
go back out. OK. Drive on."
During his last mission,
Petry was to locate himself with the platoon headquarters in
the target building once it was secured. There, he was to
serve as the senior noncommissioned officer at the site for
the remainder of the operation.
But things quickly
got dangerous for Petry and his team. Insurgents opened fire
on Petry and his men.
Petry had fellow Ranger Pvt.
1st Class Lucas Robinson at his side. The two were to clear
the outer courtyard of the target building. It was there the
two first saw the enemy.
"I remember seeing the guy
out of my peripheral vision," Petry said. "Two guys with AKs
at their hip, just spraying. And one happened to strike me
right in the thighs. I didn't know I was hit in both thighs,
but it hit my left thigh."
Robinson was also hit,
Petry said. "He was struck right in his ribcage on his left
side and he continued along and followed behind me."
While wounded and under enemy fire, Petry led Robinson to
the cover of a chicken coop in the courtyard. The enemy
continued to deliver fire at the two Soldiers.
reported contact was made with the enemy, and as a result,
team member Sgt. Daniel Higgins moved to the outer
courtyard. As Higgins moved toward the chicken coop to meet
with the two wounded Soldiers, Petry threw a thermobaric
grenade toward the enemy. That explosion caused a lull in
As Higgins evaluated the wounds of both
Petry and Robinsion, an insurgent threw a grenade over the
chicken coop. The grenade landed about 10 meters from the
three Rangers, knocked them to the ground, and wounded
Higgins and Robinson.
With three Soldiers taking
cover in the coop, an insurgent threw yet another grenade.
This time, the grenade landed just a few feet from the three
Soldiers -- much closer than the earlier grenade.
was almost instinct -- off training," Petry said of his
response to the situation. "It was probably going to kill
all three of us. I had time to visually see the hand
grenade. And I figure it's got about a four-and-half second
fuse, depending on how long it has been in the elements and
the weather and everything and how long the pin has been
pulled. I figure if you have time to see it you have time to
kick it, throw it, just get it out there."
when Petry picked up the grenade and threw it away from him
and his buddies. As it turns out, he did have the time to
save all three of their lives -- but not time to save his
The grenade exploded as he threw it --
destroying his throwing arm.
"I actually didn't think
it was going to go off," Petry said. "I didn't really feel
much pain. I didn't know it had gone off and taken my hand
until I sat back up and saw it was completely amputated at
Petry put a tourniquet on his now severed
arm, to prevent further blood loss. That was something he
said he knew how to do as a result of good Army training.
Then he had to focus on those around him.
younger guys next to me were kind of still in shock and
awe," Petry said, and he tasked himself do what it is that
makes Americans marvel at their Soldiers. "Maintaining
control, maintaining awareness, trying to remain calm -- so
they stay calm."
He radioed for help -- but the
fighting wasn't over. Staff Sgt. James Roberts engaged the
enemy and was able to suppress their fire. But another
insurgent began firing, and fatally wounded Spc. Christopher
Gathercole. Higgins and Robinson returned fire and killed
Moments later, Sgt. 1st Class Jerod
Staidle, the platoon sergeant, and Spc. Gary Depriest, the
platoon medic, arrived in the outer courtyard. After
directing Depriest to treat Gathercole, Staidle moved to
Petry' s position. Staidle and Higgins then assisted Petry
as he moved to the casualty collection point.
a week, he'd be back in the United States.
A HAND IN
While passing through hospitals back to the
United States, doctors had operated to remove damaged or
dead tissue from Petry's arm, in part, to prevent infection.
But when he arrived stateside his wound was still open, the
bone was still exposed and it was wrapped with gauze.
"The initial surgery when he came in was to basically
take away what damaged tissue was left, and close his skin,"
said Col. James Ficke, an orthopedic surgeon. "He had enough
skin, but no functioning hand ... by the time he got to us.
When he looked at his hand at the time of his wound, when he
put the tourniquet on, he had tissue -- skin and broken
bones. But no fingers or anything."
Ficke is Petry's
doctor, and also serves as the current chairman of the
Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation at Brooke Army
Medical Center in San Antonio. He also became a friend with
"We met when he was evacuated back to Brooke
AMC," Ficke said. "I was on call when he came in to the
hospital. He was brought in with a group of patients who
were injured in Afghanistan."
While it was by chance
that Petry landed in Ficke's hospital while he was on duty,
the doctor admits he kind of knew Petry was coming. Ficke
and Petry's commander had served together in Iraq.
"He emailed me and said to look out for him," Ficke said. "I
knew that Sergeant Petry was going to be one of the guys who
I was going to have a relationship with for a long time."
Petry was in his late 20s at the time he was wounded and
Ficke said it was devastating for a young man -- in the
prime of his life -- to suffer such a catastrophic wound.
"This is a guy who was a very active guy, a Ranger,"
Ficke said. "He had just come back from Afghanistan --
evacuated out. But a week before that, in the prime of
health, fighting over there with his buddies."
the beginning though, Ficke said Petry was gunning to get
back to the fight.
"He wanted to stay in the Army,
very much," he said. "He wanted to deploy again, he wanted
to restore his life as much as he could. We talked a lot
about what was possible and what we could help him with."
Petry said he drew inspiration from those around him in
the hospital -- from fellow Soldiers with severe burns and
"phenomenal attitudes," to those with injuries similar to
"The first person that came and visited me
in the hospital was a female," Petry said. "She was a
double-amputee above the elbow. She had the greatest
attitude. She was hanging out with the guys, having a great
time. To see that kind of reaction, I thought I have nothing
to complain about."
Ficke said that he was able to
close Petry's wound over his wrist, so the Ranger had
available a functioning wrist that could provide rotation.
Ideally, a prosthetic hand would fit over that and he would
use his own wrist to rotate the hand. But his own wrist was
not as capable as it could have been, Ficke said.
"Sometimes his own ability to turn that wrist would not be
as good as some of the prosthesis," Ficke said. "He and I
and the prosthetist, all kind of talked and decided to have
a shorter forearm and take away that wrist so that he could
have a prosthesis that would do that with motors."
Removing a living part of his body to replace it with a more
capable mechanical equivalent might be a tough choice -- but
Petry said he's pleased with the results.
great hand," Petry said. "It's got a couple of sensors built
in underneath the casting right above the skin. What'll
happen is, every muscle contraction you make will send
signals up to the hand. Each finger, when it meets
resistance, it will stop. So you got more dexterity to grab
round shapes and stuff like that and this particular hand is
able to have a couple of other modes, where you can pinch
and so a grasp."
Petry's prosthetist built a fitting
to slide over Petry's forearm so the hand can attach, and
also placed sensors to pick up electrical signals from his
muscles. After working with a therapist, Petry's robotic
hand moves with the very signals he used to use to control
his own hand.
"Occupational therapy was great," he
said. The therapist had Petry practice doing exercises,
manipulating small objects so he could learn dexterity in
his new hand.
"I used it everywhere," he said.
"Actually, I got myself into trouble with recovery -- I wore
the arm too long and didn't let my limb get used to it and
so I swelled up and I couldn't wear it for a couple days."
Now Petry is pretty adept with his new robotic hand --
and is using it back home with his family, and as he moves
throughout the Army meeting new people who are interested in
"I could shake people's hands today. I'm
meeting people all the time. It feels great to actually
shake their hands with my right hand," he said. "I'm
fortunate they have this type of medical technology. I
thought I was going to end up with a set of hooks -- and I
got those as well. But when they handed me a prosthetic hand
that functions pretty darn close to a real thing, I was
Petry was injured in May 2008, and didn't
actually make it home permanently until April 2009 -- a span
of more than 10 months.
"When I actually got back it
was great, I got back on Easter day," he said. "I got to
have fun with the kids. It was special.”
It was two
things, Petry said, that he thought about as he healed --
and that drove him to push through the therapy so he could
get back to the people he wanted to be around.
family, and my second family -- the 2nd Ranger Battalion,"
he said. "I used to joke with my wife. I used to tell her
hey I got my Alpha and Bravo team leaders at work. And
you're my Charlie team leader. We're all one big happy
family. I really wanted to get back and see the guys. I
really miss the unit, the camaraderie, the high spirit. And
to keep doing what I can for the Army."
Petry's got more than himself and his
fellow Rangers to concern himself with. Like a lot of
Soldiers, he's got a wife and kids that worry about him
while he battles for freedom in Afghanistan.
and his wife Ashley have four children: Brittany, Austin,
Reagan and Landon.
Ashley first heard about her
husband's wounds when some Soldiers came to their front door
-- a day her mother was visiting to help with the kids.
"It was Memorial Day morning and the kids were out of
school," she said. "We'd slept in late and my mom was in
town -- she comes in often when he deploys. I was still in
pajamas. The doorbell rang -- and we've always been briefed
as spouses if they come to your door what they would be
dressed in and how many would be there if there was a
She said she knew by the way the Soldiers
were dressed -- and how many of them there were -- that
Petry had not been killed. But she knew something was wrong.
"I looked through the peep hole and you see the tan
berets and the uniform -- my heart just sank," she said. "I
just remember being numb. And after that morning I always
was very sad and would cry when I'd see things on TV when
other families lost their family members overseas, but now I
have that feeling."
Less than a week later, Ashley
and the kids could meet up with Petry -- the first time
they'd seen him since he'd deployed.
"I think the
acceptance came when we were actually able to bring the kids
to Texas and they could see him," Ashley said.
Initially concerned about their youngest, Ashley said she
didn't know what to expect when the boy would see his dad
for the first time without an arm.
"But he ran
straight to him. And from day one, he's had a nickname for
it -- that's Nubby. He calls it Nubby," she said. The boy
refers to his dad's shortened forearm -- his stump -- by a
"Even when I'm gone on the road, I'll call
late at night and tell him goodnight," Petry said. "He'll
say tell Nubby goodnight for me."
Both Petry and his
wife say he's made some changes at home -- but has otherwise
adjusted to life with his new mechanical hand. Ashley,
initially concerned Petry would need assistance with
everyday tasks, said he has turned down offers of help.
Instead, he's become skilled doing all the things other
Soldiers do for themselves -- but with one mechanical hand.
"From the day I went to the hospital, he was doing
everything himself," she said. That included such things as
shaving and cutting his fingernails. "He didn't want help.
At home we don't see him as injured. He sometimes forgets he
has the prosthetic."
Petry even shakes hands with new
people using his prosthetic -- something others might be
uncomfortable with, but something he said he is proud of. On
a March trip to Washington, D.C., he got to use his new hand
to greet Army leaders.
Despite some adjustments which
Petry said do in fact require him to ask his family for
help, and which he said means he gets more interaction with
his kids -- he has actually learned to do some things with
his prosthetic that he didn't do before.
"I picked up
golf with my golf attachment," he said.
Petry's been a Ranger since after basic training. And he
wasn't the first in his family to do so.
was actually serving in the 2nd Ranger Battalion when I was
finishing up high school, debating on when or what I was
going to do," he said. "He explained a lot to me what the
regiment did, and that was a sell for me."
after being sold on the Rangers by his cousin, he had made
up his mind to follow in his footsteps. After completion of
One Station Unit Training, the Basic Airborne Course and the
Ranger Assessment and Selection Program -- all at Fort
Benning, Ga. -- Petry got assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th
Today, Petry holds his unit, and his
Ranger team members in high esteem.
Ranger brothers," he said. "They're great guys, all of them.
And they are definitely guys you'd want to be at the front
lines with. I'm glad they were there that day with me."
Petry said he has honored his fellow fallen Rangers --
the ones he calls real heroes -- by keeping their names as
close to him as possible.
"I've got all the names of
the 2/75 Rangers we've lost on my prosthetic arm," he said.
"As much as I like to say remember the fallen heroes, those
are the true heroes, who sacrificed it all. I didn't
sacrifice anything more than anyone else who is out there."
Despite his injuries, Petry
recently re-upped in the Army for eight more years, which
will take him to a full 20 years of service.
the ninth servicemember to have been named a recipient of
the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Of
prior recipients, all but Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta were
awarded the honor posthumously.
Included among those
recipients are Spc. Ross A. McGinnis, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R.
Smith, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, and
Marine Corps Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, all for actions in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, Sgt.
1st Class Jared C. Monti and Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy were
awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.
Petry currently serves as a liaison officer for the
United States Special Operations Command Care
Coalition-Northwest Region, and provides oversight to
wounded warriors, ill and injured servicemembers and their
He enlisted in the United States Army from
his hometown of Santa Fe, N.M. in September 1999.
Petry has served as a grenadier, squad automatic rifleman,
fire team leader, squad leader, operations sergeant, and
weapons squad leader.
He has deployed eight times in
support of the War on Terror, with two tours to Iraq and six
tours to Afghanistan.
By C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service
President Obama's Presentation of MoH to Leroy A. Petry
Leroy A. Petry's Medal of Honor Citation
Teammates Recount Medal Of Honor
Nominee's Courageous Actions
| Poem >
Comment on this article