“If not for Staff Sgt. Petry’s actions, we would have been seriously wounded or killed.”
– Sgt. Daniel Higgins
On July 12, 2011, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry, a 31-year-old native of Santa Fe, N.M., will become the second living recipient of the Medal of Honor for valorous action in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. During a mission that took place on May 26, 2008, an already wounded Petry saved the lives of four fellow soldiers when he threw away an enemy grenade that had landed nearby, an action that catastrophically amputated his right hand. This will make a total of nine warriors from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts to receive America’s highest decoration for military valor.
The May 26, 2008, mission was unusual from the get-go: to capture a high-value target – in a daylight raid. High-value target, or HVT, is military terminology for a senior enemy leader, in this case Taliban or al Qaeda. That the orders were to launch the raid in daylight told the soldiers of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, that this was a very senior leader and that the intelligence was critically time sensitive, otherwise the operation would have been scheduled for night, the normal time for such a mission.
The mission took place in Paktia province, one of the infamous lawless provinces that form Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan. Petry, then a staff sergeant, was to station himself in the platoon headquarters of the target building after it had been secured, and serve as the senior noncommissioned officer until the operation had concluded.
As the attack unfolded, Petry saw that one of the assault squads was having trouble clearing the primary target building, a mixed use structure surrounded by a walled courtyard that contained a large chicken coop. Petry informed the platoon leader that he was going to assist that squad with the clearing operation.
Petry supervised the clearing of the residential section of the building. Having satisfied himself it was free of insurgents, he then took with him Pfc. Lucas Robinson in order to secure the outer courtyard, which he knew had not been cleared.
As the two Rangers entered it, they came under fire from three insurgents. Robinson received a bullet wound in his side. Another enemy round went through both of Petry’s legs. Despite his wounds, Petry managed to lead Robinson to shelter behind the chicken coop.
Using his intrasquad radio, Petry announced that he and Robinson had made contact with three insurgents and that they were both wounded. Hearing this, Sgt. Daniel Higgins said that he was on his way to support. As Higgins emerged into the courtyard, Petry threw a thermobaric grenade at the enemy position, which successfully provided Higgins cover.
As soon as he reached his fellow Rangers, Higgins began assessing their wounds. As he was doing so, an insurgent grenade landed about 10 meters away. The three were thrown to the ground by the explosion, with shrapnel wounding both Higgins and Robinson. Seconds later, additional reinforcements arrived in the form of Staff Sgt. James Roberts and Spc. Christopher Gathercole. As the five Rangers tried to spread out, a second insurgent grenade was tossed at them, this time landing lethally close to Higgins and Robinson. Ignoring his wounds and the danger to himself, Petry lunged for the grenade. Grasping it in his right hand, he hurled it in the direction of the insurgents’ position.
Just as it cleared his hand, the grenade exploded. Petry’s right hand was catastrophically amputated by the detonation, and his body peppered with shrapnel. Despite his condition, Petry was able to apply a tourniquet with his left hand and communicate his new condition and the contact situation. Meanwhile, Roberts engaged the insurgents that had advanced to the other side of the chicken coop with his rifle and a grenade. Gathercole was fatally wounded when another insurgent attempted to flank them from the east. Higgins and Robinson returned fire, killing that insurgent. Moments later they received additional reinforcements, including Spc. Gary Depriest, the platoon medic. Petry and the other casualties were soon medevaced to headquarters.
When informed that he was to receive the Medal of Honor, Petry said, “It’s very humbling to know that the guys thought that much of me and my actions that day, to nominate me for that.” Petry has served two tours in Iraq and six tours in Afghanistan. His additional decorations include two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, and three Army Commendation Medals.