JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — The soldiers who served with the Army sergeant set to receive the Medal of Honor next month because of his actions in Afghanistan say he’s a hero who’s maintained his sharp wit and plans to “keep rangering.”
After he had been shot in both legs, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry didn’t just lose his hand while throwing an enemy grenade away from himself and two fellow Army Rangers. As they continued to fight a small armed group, Petry kept calling out orders and helping his unit fulfill its mission and get the injured men the medical help they needed.
“Everybody would like to think they’d do the same thing,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jarod Christopher Staidle, one of Petry’s fellow soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment who spoke to the media Thursday. But no one could possibly know what they would do unless faced with the same situation, he said.
Petry made a conscious decision to go in and help his fellow Rangers who had been wounded, and to move them to a safer location near a chicken coop. If he hadn’t done so, he wouldn’t have been there to grab the grenade and toss it away, saving two men but becoming seriously wounded himself.
One U.S. soldier was killed in that fight in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia in May 2008, as was the entire enemy unit.
On July 12, Petry will be the second living, active-duty service member to receive the nation’s highest military decoration for actions in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Last year, President Barack Obama awarded a Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, also for actions in Afghanistan.
“He did not consider the long-term repercussions,” said Master Sgt. Reese Wayne Teakell, another highly decorated member of Petry’s unit.
He could have saved himself by moving his body instead of grabbing the grenade, but his fellow soldiers would likely have died or been severely injured if he made that choice, Teakell added.
Petry probably knew the moment he reached for that grenade what danger he faced. “There is some voice in all of our heads that says I probably won’t survive this,” Teakell said.
His fellow soldiers immediately recognized the heroic nature of Petry’s actions and knew he had done something special that day.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Master Sgt. Steven L. Walter.
Petry has declined to talk to the media until after the president gives him his medal. Both of the men he saved — Pfc. Lucas Robinson and Sgt. Daniel Higgins — have left the Army and are attending college.
Staidle said Petry is extremely humbled by the honor. Despite being eligible for a medical discharge, he has chosen to stay on active duty and is working near his unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, helping injured soldiers adjust to life after battle.
Petry and his wife, Ashley, have four children, Brittany, Austin, Reagan and Landon.
The 31-year-old native of Santa Fe, N.M., has served six tours in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, according to the Army. He enlisted in September 1999. When he re-enlisted in 2010, Petry said he loves the work he does helping wounded soldiers.
“If I can’t go to the fight, I can help the men who are wounded, injured or ill,” he said in a statement from the Army.
Petry is determined to “keep rangering” as much as possible, Staidle said.
“He’s always upbeat,” Staidle said. “He hasn’t let any of this go to his head.”
But he has let it feed his mischievous sense of humor, his comrades agreed.
They share, with smiles, that Petry’s one regret is that he used his right hand to lob the grenade, since that’s the hand he used to write, golf and shoot a gun.
He spends a lot of time demonstrating his high-tech prosthetic arm, which means the battery runs down all the time, his fellow Rangers noted.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Petry, however, as he can then carry the arm around and use it as a prop in his comedy routine. They say most people don’t notice the arm, because of the man who is wearing it, except of course when he has taken it off and is shaking someone’s hand with the fake arm he’s holding with his left hand.