WASHINGTON — An Army Ranger who lost his right hand and suffered shrapnel wounds after throwing an armed grenade away from his fellow soldiers will be the second living Medal of Honor recipient from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On July 12, President Barack Obama will present the nation’s highest award for battlefield gallantry to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry for his actions during May 26, 2008, combat operations against an armed enemy in Afghanistan’s Paktia province.
Petry now serves as part of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Benning, Ga.
“It’s very humbling to know that the guys thought that much of me and my actions that day to nominate me for that,” said Petry, on learning he had been nominated for the medal. At the time of his actions in Afghanistan, Petry was assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. His actions came as part of a rare daylight raid to capture a high-value target.
Petry was to locate himself with the platoon headquarters in the targeted building once it was secured. Once there, he was to serve as the senior noncommissioned officer at the site for the remainder of the operation.
Recognizing one of the assault squads needed help clearing their assigned building, Petry relayed to the platoon leader that he was moving to that squad to provide additional supervision and guidance. Once the residential portion of the building had been cleared, Petry took a fellow member of the assault squad, Pfc. Lucas Robinson, to clear the outer courtyard. Petry knew that area had not been cleared during the initial clearance.
Petry and Robinson, both Rangers, moved into an area of the compound that contained at least three enemy fighters who were prepared to engage friendly forces from opposite ends of the outer courtyard.
As the two soldiers entered the courtyard, to their front was an opening, followed by a chicken coop. As they crossed the open area, an enemy insurgent fired on them. Petry was wounded by one round, which went through both of his legs. Robinson was also hit in his side plate by a separate round.
While wounded and under enemy fire, Petry led Robinson to the cover of the chicken coop as the enemy fighters continued to fire at them.
As the senior soldier, Petry assessed the situation. He reported that contact was made and that two wounded Rangers were in the courtyard of the primary target building. Upon hearing the report, Sgt. Daniel Higgins, a team leader, moved to the outer courtyard.
As Higgins was moving to Petry and Robinson’s position, Petry threw a thermobaric grenade near the enemy position. Shortly after that grenade exploded and created a lull in the enemy fire, Higgins arrived at the chicken coop and was assessing his comrades’ wounds when an insurgent threw a grenade over the chicken coop at the three Rangers. The grenade landed about 10 yards from the soldiers, knocking them to the ground and wounding Higgins and Robinson.
Shortly after the grenade exploded, Staff Sgt. James Roberts and Spc. Christopher Gathercole entered the courtyard and moved toward the chicken coop.
With three soldiers taking cover in the chicken coop, an enemy fighter threw another grenade at them. This time, the grenade landed just a few feet from Higgins and Robinson.
Recognizing the threat that the enemy grenade posed to his fellow Rangers, Petry — despite his own wounds and with complete disregard for his personal safety — consciously and deliberately risked his life to move to and secure the live enemy grenade and throw it away from his fellow Rangers, according to battlefield reports.
As Petry released the grenade in the direction of the enemy, preventing the serious injury or death of Higgins and Robinson, it detonated and amputated his right hand.
Petry assessed his wound and placed a tourniquet on his right arm. He then reported that he was still in contact with the enemy and that he had been wounded again.
After the blast that amputated Petry’s hand, Roberts began to engage the enemy behind the chicken coop with small-arms fire and a grenade. His actions suppressed the insurgents behind the chicken coop. Shortly after, another enemy fighter on the east end of the courtyard began firing, fatally wounding Gathercole.
Higgins and Robinson returned fire and killed the enemy.
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.
Higgins later wrote in a statement, “If not for Staff Sergeant Petry’s actions, we would have been seriously wounded or killed.”
Petry is the ninth servicemember to have been named a recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. All but Petry and Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta were awarded the honor posthumously.
Army Spc. Ross A. McGinnis, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor and Marine Corps Cpl. Jason L. Dunham all received the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq. Giunta, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, Army 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 U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition Northwest Region, and provides oversight to wounded warriors, ill and injured servicemembers and their families.
He enlisted in the Army from his hometown of Santa Fe, N.M., in September 1999. After completion of One Station Unit Training, the Basic Airborne Course and the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program — all at Fort Benning — he was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
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, with two tours to Iraq and six tours to Afghanistan.
Petry and his wife, Ashley, have four children: Brittany, Austin, Reagan and Landon.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)