July 12th, 2011
05:36 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest medal for bravery Tuesday to a soldier who lost his hand when an enemy grenade went off just as he was throwing it clear of his fellow soldiers in what the President called "a singular act of gallantry."
Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry was serving in Paktya, Afghanistan in May 2008 when his Ranger unit was assigned to capture a high value target in a helicopter raid.
"The mission is high risk. It's broad daylight," Obama said. "The insurgents are heavily armed, but it's considered a risk worth taking because intelligence indicates that a top al Qaeda commander is in that compound."
According to the President and Army documents about the raid, Petry, a staff sergeant at the time, saw that some of his fellow soldiers were running into resistance clearing part of the primary target building so he went to help.
At one point he and another soldier, PFC Lucas Robinson, were in the courtyard of the building when enemy gunmen opened fire from just 10 yards away wounding both men.
"Leroy is hit in both legs. He's bleeding badly, but he summons the strength to lead the other ranger to cover," the President said at the White House ceremony.
With a bullet wound in both legs, Petry called for help and fought back. With the enemy fighters still firing on them, a third Ranger, Sgt. Daniel Higgins arrived to help Petry and Robinson.
Moments later, an enemy threw a grenade that blew up 30 feet from the men, injuring Higgins and Robinson, a second time. President Obama continued the narrative of bravery.
"Then a second grenade lands. This time only a few feet away. Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away. Every soldier is trained to seek cover. That's what Sergeant Leroy Petry could have done." But he didn't.
The grenade landed right next to his wounded comrades. "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 consciously throw the grenade away from his fellow Rangers," according to an Army website detailing the fight.
The granade exploded just as he let go... blowing his right hand off and peppering Petry with shrapnel.
Now wounded a second time, Petry remained composed and focused on the fight.
"Even his fellow Rangers were amazed at what Leroy did next," Obama said.
"Despite his grievous wounds, he remained calm.
He actually put on his own tourniquet and he continued to lead, directing his team, giving orders, even telling the medics how to treat his wounds."
About 100 members of Petry's family were at the White House to watch President Obama drape the iconic blue ribbon and gold star medal around Petry's neck.
Among them were his wife Ashley and their four children. Petry, according to an Army profile, longed to be a soldier since he was 7 years old growing up in New Mexico.
He enlisted in 1999 after graduating from Saint Catherine's Indian High School in Santa Fe. He became a Ranger shortly after training. Since then he went on two tours of duty in Iraq, and five tours in Afghanistan.
After that day in the courtyard where he lost his hand, he chose to go back for a sixth tour of duty with his Ranger battalion, fighting in the worst places in Afghanistan with only one good hand and a body still riddled with shrapnel wounds. He already has two Bronze Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals and a Purple Heart.
While still on active duty with the Army Rangers, Sgt. First Class Petry is in college studying for a business degree. He also enjoys golfing, fishing and hunting. After all was done in the White House East Room, Sgt. First Class Petry made a brief statement to reporters on the North Lawn.
"To be singled out was very humbling. I consider every one of our men and women in uniform serving here, abroad to be our heroes. Those - all of the uniformed services. They sacrifice every day and deserve your continued support and recognition."