LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA – Any service member who retires honorably from the military is an exceptional person. He or she voluntarily dedicated years of their life to preserve the freedom of the American people. Master Sgt. Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient, is an especially exceptional person.
Petry retired from the Army July 23, 2014, in a ceremony at Evergreen Theater at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., in front of an audience of his fellow Rangers of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
Petry earned the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, by his actions May 26, 2008. Petry, then a staff sergeant assigned to D Company, 2/75 Ranger Regiment, took part in a daylight raid in Paktya province, Afghanistan. While crossing the courtyard of a house potentially containing a high-value target, Petry and another Ranger, Pfc. Lucas Robinson, received automatic weapons fire from several enemy insurgents.
Both Soldiers were hit by the enemy fire; Petry in both thighs and Robinson in the ribcage. Despite their wounds, the two made it to the cover of a chicken coop in the courtyard and reported the situation.
Another Ranger, Sgt. Daniel Higgins, moved into the courtyard to support the wounded Soldiers and made his way to the chicken coop. As he evaluated the two, an insurgent threw a grenade, which landed about 10 meters away from the three Rangers. The blast knocked all three to the ground and wounded Higgins and Robinson.
A second grenade landed only a few feet from the three Soldiers. Petry quickly picked up the grenade and threw it away from his fellow Rangers.
“It was almost instinct,” said Petry. “I figure if you have time to see it, you have time to kick it, throw it, just get it out of there.”
The grenade exploded just as Petry threw it, amputating his right hand at the wrist.
Despite the grievous wound, he remained conscious and put a tourniquet on his wrist and continued reporting the situation.
Within a week, Petry was back in the United States receiving medical care for his legs and hand. With the aid of an advanced prosthetic hand, Petry was able to continue to serve his country as a liaison officer with the U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition, providing oversight to wounded warriors and their families.
After President Barack Obama placed the Medal of Honor around Petry’s neck July 12, 2011, life changed for the outstanding Soldier. Petry became a spokesman for the Army, appearing on talk shows, speaking at ceremonies, and making appearances across the nation.
As a Medal of Honor recipient, there is a choice an individual must make: to do nothing with it or to share it with as many people as possible, Petry said.
“I am able to keep it, but it represents the men and women in uniform who are serving, who have served, and especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
Traveling around the country brought its own set of challenges for the Ranger.
“The hardest part is the time management,” Petry explained.
He said he tries to think of his time as a pie chart, and after taking slices off for traveling to events, doing his job and spending time with his family, the slice for leisure activity is usually very small. He added that making sure his personal time didn’t go away completely was the hardest challenge of all.
As Petry traveled around the country and continued to do his duty helping wounded Soldiers, he noticed that his legs were bothering him more and more often.
“I have more wounds than just my hand,” Petry explained. “Most of the muscle in my thighs is gone, and it’s hard for me to stand much longer than 15 minutes.”
Though Petry had intended to serve his country for 20 years before retiring, his legs forced him to reconsider and he reluctantly accepted medical retirement.
“It’s a life I’m going to miss, but I’m also excited to start phase 2 of my life,” Petry said.
Now that he’s retired, Petry can spend more time with his wife, Ashley, and their four children: Brittany, Austin, Reagan, and Landon.
Petry also set a goal to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Washington.
“I’m racing my son, Austin, to see who can get their degree first,” he laughed.
After college, Petry plans to be an entrepreneur or own a franchise.
Throughout the rest of his life, Petry said he will always remember the men and women of the military and try to help them.
Petry keeps the fallen Rangers – those he calls the true heroes – close to him at all times.
“I’ve got all the names of the 2/75 Rangers we’ve lost on my prosthetic arm,” he said. “Those are the true heroes, who sacrificed it all. I didn’t sacrifice anything more than anyone else who is out there.”
In the days before Petry’s retirement, he reflected on his past 15 years as he prepared for the future.
Petry enlisted in 1999 and spent his entire career assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment. He deployed eight times: twice to Iraq and six times to Afghanistan, for a total of 28 months deployed.
“I think my service has meant the world to me. It’s changed my life,” Petry said. “I am leaving the military, but not forever. I will always stay involved, and it has been the greatest honor in my life.”
Although the ceremony was dedicated to thanking him for his sacrifice and service, Petry took time at his ceremony to thank those who are still serving and will serve in the future.
“It will give me comfort to know that I can enjoy the rest of my life with my family because you said, ‘I volunteer,’” Petry said.