Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr., a member of east coast based SEAL team, receives the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama during a White House ceremony, February 29, 2016. Byers received the award for his actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian held hostage in Afghanistan in December 2012.
Video produced by and courtesy of DoD News Video edited by USA Patriotism!
Text of President Barack Obama's Remarks
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good morning, everyone. And welcome to the White
House. The ethos -- the creed -- that guides every Navy SEAL says this:
“I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my
actions.” Which is another way of saying that standing here today, in
front of the entire nation, is not Senior Chief Ed Byers's idea of a
good time. (Laughter.) Like so many of our special operators, Ed is
defined by a deep sense of humility. He doesn't seek the spotlight. In
fact, he shuns it. He's the consummate quiet professional. I imagine
there are a lot of other places he'd rather be than in front of all
these cameras. Back in Coronado for another Hell Week. Holding his
breath under dark, frigid water. Spending months being cold, wet and
sandy. I'm sure there are other things he'd rather be doing.
the Medal of Honor is our nation's highest military decoration. And
today's ceremony is truly unique -- a rare opportunity for the American
people to get a glimpse of a special breed of warrior that so often
serves in the shadows. We're a nation of more than 300 million
Americans. Of these, less than one percent wear the uniform of our armed
forces. Of these, just a small fraction serve in our Special Operations
forces. Among those who train to become a SEAL, only a select few emerge
and earn the right to wear that golden Trident.
this: In the entire history of the Navy SEALs, just five have been
awarded the Medal of Honor. Their names have become legend. Norris.
Kerrey. Thornton. Murphy. Monsoor. And now, a sixth -- Byers. Among the
members of the Medal of Honor Society who are with us, we are especially
honored by the presence of Tommy Norris and Mike Thornton. (Applause.)
Now, given the nature of Ed's service, there is a lot that we cannot
say today. Many of the operational details of his mission remain
classified. Many of his teammates cannot be mentioned. And this is as it
should be. Their success demands secrecy, and that secrecy saves lives.
There are, however, many distinguished guests that we can
acknowledge, including members of Congress, leaders from across our
military, including the Navy. In fact, this may be the largest gathering
of special ops in the history of the White House. Among them, we have,
from Special Operations Command, General Joe Votel and Vice Admiral Sean
Pybus. From Joint Special Operations Command, Rear Admiral Tim
Szymanski. And from Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Admiral Brian
Losey, and Force Master Chief Derrick Walters. For America's special
operators, this is a little bit of a family reunion and it's wonderful
to have them all here.
Most of all, we welcome Ed's wonderful
family -- his wife Madison, who like so many military spouses has kept
their family strong back home while Ed has been deployed; their
spectacular daughter, Hannah, who is a competitive figure skater and
looks the part. (Laughter.) Ed likes to jump out of planes with a
parachute, and when he's not skydiving, he's driving his 1976 Shovelhead
Harley. When he's not out riding, he's staying in shape with Hannah, who
is apparently his workout partner. (Laughter.) It's good when your
trainer is a Navy SEAL. (Laughter.)
We also welcome mom's -- Ed's
mom Peggy, who I understand had one question when Ed told her about this
ceremony -- “Do you think I can come?” (Laughter.) That's so sweet. Yes,
mom, you're allowed to come when your son gets the Medal of Honor.
(Laughter.) Ed's brothers and sisters are here, as are about 50 cousins
from all across the country. And dozens of friends -- many who served
alongside Ed -- some who have travelled from around the world to be here
today. That's the brotherhood -- the depth of loyalty to service and to
mission -- that binds these teams.
Now, looking back, it seems
Ed Byers was destined to serve. His father served in the Navy during
World War II and now rests in Arlington. As a boy growing up in Grand
Rapids, Ohio, Ed would be in the woods, in camouflage, in his words,
“playing military” -- and I suspect the other kids did not stand a
chance. (Laughter.) A Boy Scout who loved adventure, Ed saw a movie
about the Navy SEALs and fell in love with the idea of deploying by sea,
air and land.
“I believe that man will not merely endure. He will
prevail,” William Faulkner once said, “because he has a soul, a spirit
capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” Even if he had never
performed the actions for which he is being recognized here today, Ed
Byers would be long remembered for his compassion, his sacrifice and his
endurance. Eleven overseas deployments. Nine combat tours. Recipient of
the Purple Heart -- twice. The Bronze Star with valor -- five times.
About three years ago, our nation called on that spirit once again.
In Afghanistan, an American doctor -- a husband and father of four
children who was working to bring health care to the Afghan people --
was driving down a rural road. Gunmen surrounded his car and took him
hostage. They tied his hands and marched him into the mountains. The
days went by. In a remote valley, in a small single-room building,
surrounded by Taliban, he lost all hope. “I was certain,” he thought, “I
was about to die.” His captors told him, the Americans are not coming
for you. Well, they were wrong. Whenever Americans are taken hostage in
the world, we move heaven and earth to bring them home safe. We send
some thunder and some lightning -- our special operator forces, folks
like Ed Byers. They're carefully selected for their character, their
integrity and their judgment. They are highly trained, with skills honed
by years of experience. And they willingly volunteer for missions of
extraordinary risk, like this one.
In this case, there was reason
to believe that a Taliban commander was on his way to take custody of
the American hostage and move him into Pakistan. So time was of the
essence. From a remote forward operating base, Ed and his joint team
geared up, boarded their helos, and launched. Once on the ground, they
moved -- under the cover of darkness, on that cold December night --
through the mountains, down rocky trails, for hours. They found their
target and moved in, quickly and quietly. Then, when they were less than
a hundred feet from the building, a guard came out, and the bullets
SEALs rushed to the doorway, which was covered by a layer of blankets.
Ed started ripping them down, exposing himself to enemy fire. A
teammate, the lead assaulter, pushed in and was hit. Fully aware of the
danger, Ed moved in next. An enemy guard aimed his rifle right at him.
Ed fired. Someone moved across the floor -- perhaps the hostage; perhaps
another guard lunging for a weapon. The struggle was hand-to-hand. Ed
straddled him, pinning him down. Ed adjusted his night vision goggles.
Things came into focus, and he was on top of a guard.
American hostage later described the scene. The dark room suddenly
filled with men and the sound of exploding gunfire. Narrow beams of
light shot in every direction. Voices called out his name. He answered,
“I'm right here.”
Hearing English, Ed leapt across the room and
threw himself on the hostage, using his own body to shield him from the
bullets. Another enemy fighter appeared, and with his body, Ed kept
shielding the hostage. With his bare hands, Ed pinned the fighter to the
wall and held him until his teammates took action. It was over almost as
soon as it began. In just minutes, by going after those guards, Ed saved
the lives of several teammates -- and that hostage. You're safe, the
SEALs told the doctor, you are with American forces. And that hostage
came home to be reunited with his wife and his children.
success came with a price. That first SEAL through the door -- Ed's
friend, Nic -- was grievously wounded. Ed is a medic, so on the helo
out, he stayed with Nic, helping to perform CPR the entire flight -- 40
minutes long. Today, we salute Chief Petty Officer Nicolas Checque. Back
in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, they remembered him as the driven kid --
the football player and wrestler who always wanted to be a SEAL. For his
valor on this mission, he was awarded the Navy Cross, and he's among the
70 members of the Naval Special Warfare community -- 55 of them SEALs --
who have made the ultimate sacrifice since 9/11. The enduring love of
Nic's family and all those who admired him remind us of the immense
sacrifices that our remarkable Gold Star families have made, and our
obligation to stand with them always.
So today, we don't simply
honor a single individual. We also pay tribute to a community across our
entire military -- special operators, aviators, engineers, technicians,
analysts, countless enablers, and their devoted families. In these hard
years since 9/11, our nation has called on this community like never
before. Small in number, they have borne an extraordinarily heavy load.
But they continue to volunteer, mission after mission, year after year.
Few Americans ever see it. I am truly privileged and humbled that, as
Commander-in-Chief, I do get to see it.
I've given the order
sending you into harm's way. I see the difference you make every day --
the partners you train, the relationships you forge, the other hostages
that you've brought home, the terrorists that you take out. I've waited,
like many of you, in those minutes that seem like hours when the margin
between success and failure is razor thin, for word that the team is out
safe. I've grieved with you and I've stood with you at Dover to welcome
our fallen heroes on their final journey home.
Operations forces are a strategic national asset. They teach us that
humans are more important than hardware. Today is a reminder that our
nation has to keep investing in this irreplaceable asset, which means
deploying our Special Operators wisely, preserving force and family,
making sure these incredible Americans stay strong in body, in mind and
So I'll end where I started -- with the SEAL ethos:
“In times of war or uncertainty, there is a special breed of warrior
ready to answer our nation's call. A common man with uncommon desire to
succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America's finest
Special Operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and
protect their way of life.” Senior Chief Edward Byers, Jr. is such a
man. Chief Petty Officer Nicolas Checque was that man. Every Navy SEAL
and Special Operator who serves with honor in his chosen profession is
The American people may not always see them. We may not
always hear of their success. But they are there in the thick of the
fight, in the dark of night, achieving their mission. We thank God
they're there. We sleep more peacefully in our beds tonight because
patriots like these stand ready to answer our nation's call and protect
our way of life -- now and forever.
And as we prepare for the
reading of the citation,
I ask you to join me in expressing America's profound gratitude to Navy
SEAL Ed Byers and all our quiet professionals. (Applause.)
Medal of Honor is presented after the citation's reading.) (Applause.)