WASHINGTON, 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 here today.
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.
Although 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 during deployment.
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 needed.”
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.”
Petry 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 said.
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.
Petry 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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