March 30, 2012 – Service members can draw strength from each other
rather than attempt to deal with tough times alone, a highly
decorated wounded warrior who triumphed over great adversity said
Adversity “is not best dealt with by oneself;
it's overcome by the help of others and hard work and the will to
get through it,” Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry (image left),
the Army's most recent Medal of Honor recipient, told an audience of
nearly 750 behavioral health experts and military leaders.
Petry discussed his recovery and the people who helped pull him
through during the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological
Health and Traumatic Brain Injury's Warrior Resilience Conference.
This conference, in its fourth year, is intended to equip service
members, units, families and communities with resilience-building
techniques and tools.
Petry was wounded May 26, 2008, during
an operation to capture an insurgent leader in a compound in
Afghanistan's Paktia province, near the Pakistan border. His unit
was met with heavy automatic weapons fire when they moved into the
area. He and several of his fellow soldiers were wounded and sought
cover as an enemy lobbed a grenade at the unit.
wounded in both legs by assault-rifle fire, rather than turn away or
seek cover, Petry picked up the grenade to throw it back at the
enemy. Instead, the grenade detonated, amputating his right hand.
Still, Petry remained calm, put on his own tourniquet and
continued to lead.
Last summer, President Barack Obama
awarded the country's highest military honor to the Ranger. Petry
became only the second living veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq to receive the Medal of Honor.
Petry credits his ongoing
recovery to the troops, medical personnel and family members around
him. He recalled his first night in the hospital. A female soldier,
part of an explosive ordnance disposal unit, visited him before even
his family arrived. She had lost both of her arms above the elbow
Still, “she had the greatest attitude,”
Petry said, recalling how she played ping-pong without arms.
“I was in awe,” he said.
Petry said it was his friends, from
all services, who inspired him and helped him through recovery. He
joked about the services' competitiveness with each other, such as
Army vs. Navy football, but “we come together collectively when
Petry said it's common within wounded warrior units
to find fiercely competitive troops. He recalled a story about a
service member who topped another service's record in pull-ups.
“That's where you find resilience; it's in your fellow service
member pushing you to bring out the best in you,” he said. “We need
that someone to confide in, that someone to push us, that someone to
lean on and carry our backpack when times are tough.”
pointed out the difficulties experienced by troops with invisible
wounds of war, such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic
stress. Society still doesn't understand these issues fully, he
The soldier recalled hanging out with his friends
during his recovery. Seeing his visible wounds, civilians would
approach Petry and thank him for his service and sacrifice, ignoring
the soldier by his side whose wounds weren't so evident. Petry would
stop the person and explain that the service member next to him
deserves equal gratitude.
“Everyone is an equal when it comes
to injuries,” he said.
Petry said this lack of understanding
exacts a toll on troops. His close friend, who he knew prior to both
of their wounds, suffers from severe TBI and PTS. One night, Petry
was having dinner with his family when he got a call. His friend was
threatening to commit suicide.
“I dropped everything and ran
out to his house,” he recalled.
Petry talked with his friend
and drove him to see a chaplain. His friend just needed someone to
take the time to listen, he said.
“That's the kind of stuff
we need to do sometimes for each other,” he said.
people often tell him that they're impressed he's been on seven
deployments. But he dismisses that acknowledgement. Some of his
friends are on their 15th deployment and still going strong.
“These guys are motivating me,” he said.
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
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