MSG Leroy Petry (MOH Recipient, Army Special Operations, OIF, OEF Veteran)
"Valor." It's a powerful word that in the dictionary reads out as, "great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle." Still, isn't the term "valor" just a word like any other word? Without men like the one featured in this particular blog, the word is just loose letters put together meant to define something that's truly indefinable. We, as humans, try to expound upon certain ideas and create context around specific actions. I consider myself a wordsmith, but there are times where I truly can't find the terminology to properly illicit the emotional response deserved for certain actions. All that being said, I hope that through the blog's construct of imagery connected to those words, I can paint the portrait of beautiful truth in connection to Master Sergeant Leroy Petry's actions that day. I could recite to you the history of the Medal of Honor, instead I feel that it's most fitting to tell you that it's the pinnacle of soldiering. There is no greater achievement possible in the face of almost certain death. Most men have died as a part of the achievement, which leaves it as an accomplishment very few can claim.
Have you ever been in the presence of a giant? Do you know that feeling? Physically, Petry isn't exactly distinguishable from the next man, except for the lack of his right arm at the elbow. You wouldn't be able to pick him out in a room as the, "Medal of Honor recipient." Still, I'd have known it was Petry within a few moments of meeting him. I spent a few days with him at an event put on by Warrior Rising, a company dedicated to helping veterans see success in business. Petry is the perfect spokesman for such an initiative. As I watched him interact with the Minnesota Vikings players, staff, and VIPs hosted by Warrior Rising, I saw the very definition of selfless-service. He was constantly about others in that space and making sure everyone else was taken care of. There are individuals that distinguish themselves by their actions in every facet of life. That's Petry... and that's what a Medal of Honor recipient looks like. I've heard many of the recipients play down their actions as, "being in the right place at the right time" or "being in the right place at the wrong time" depending on how you look at it. It’s hard to imagine someone committing such a selfless act only to downplay it in that way, but it’s truthfully the way they see their own deed. Here’s MSG Petry.
Why did you join the Army?
LP: I had the ambition to join the Army from the time I was seven years old. I grew up with two older brothers and we grew up out in the sticks. That’s what we did growing up. We played Army and as I got older my mom’s cousin was deployed during Desert Storm and that really got the gears turning for my future. I remember my teacher carting in the old tube television. We watched the news and current events and just kind of started questioning what I was going to do about that. I started wondering why my cousin would risk his life and I was trying to see the bigger picture. He was doing it not only for the country but because he wanted the people in Iraq to have a better life as well. I graduated high school and went to college for like half a semester.
I wasn’t really a good student and I really just did it because my grandfather pressured me into seeking out that higher education. My true desire was to be in the military though, so I went to a recruiter and signed up. I came home and my dad was like, “Didn’t your semester start last week?” I said, “Yeah, but I leave for basic training in a week (laughs).” I broke it to him a little late in the game but he was okay with it. My cousin was in the Rangers and I remember him coming home on leave and he told me all that he was doing. I started to learn about the prestige of that unit and what exactly they were. My thought process was that if I was going to join the Army during peace time I was going to be amongst the best so that if we went to war I’d be ready for whatever was to come. I wanted to be the best. I signed up under a Ranger Contract, went through Airborne school, then went into the Ranger Assessment Program. I graduated and was sent to Ft. Lewis where I served with 2nd Ranger Battalion.
Can you talk about your life previous to the Army?
LP: My parents didn’t serve in the military and my brother was just getting out as I joined. He didn’t really like it. He picked an odd job where he was doing map surveying and he got stationed at Ft. Sill and Ft. Hood. He told me, “Don’t do it! Get out while you still can (laughs).” I told him that I’d already signed up and I didn’t let the recruiter dictate a job to me. I joined on my own terms. My grandfathers served and a couple of my uncles served. One thing I noticed about both my grandfathers is they never talked about their service but when I walked into their homes I immediately saw those pictures of them in uniform and that was a sign to me that even though they didn’t talk about it, they were both extremely proud of that service. As soon as you walked into that entryway those pictures were right there. That had a massive impact on me. I didn’t really ask them about their service and I wish I had before they passed.
What was the young Leroy Petry like?
LP: Both of my parents worked, sometimes two jobs. They wanted to provide us with a better life. It was tough because they weren’t home a lot and we’d get home from school, we were supposed to go the Boys and Girls Club but we’d skip that to ride our bikes around town. I had a lot of family in the area so I’d go with my cousins out into the mountains of Santa Fe and explore. When I was in high school I joined a rougher crowd and my grades started dropping. I was ditching school a lot and hanging out with bad influences. It wasn’t until my junior year that I started to straighten up. I got home from school one day, checked the mail, found my report card, and tried to open it before my parents could get to it. I opened it up, was going to change the letters and re-close it (laughs) but I saw my name “Leroy Petry” at the top. Something stopped me in that moment that probably impacted the rest of my life.
As I read it over I started seeing, “F, F, F, D, F, F.” I had an epiphany at that point where I knew I wouldn’t get into the Army with those grades but I also knew that if someone who’d never met me held that report card, they’d immediately see me as a dirtbag. I thought to myself, “That’s not me.” I talked to my parents that night, transferred schools, stopped hanging out with bad influences and started making straight A’s my senior year. I was student of the month during that last year and the city gave me an award called, “The Bootstrap Award.” I didn’t know what it was but my parents came with me to some dinner downtown where I was given this award. They explained the award and told me that it was an award influenced by the military. They used to have straps on their boots in the old days that they used to pull up their boots. That award signified that I’d pulled my boots on and climbed out of that hole. It was the first time that I really felt an achievement of pride and knowing I’d done something positive.
Can you talk about your first deployment?
LP: I did eight total deployments as a Ranger. My first time overseas was nerve wracking. It’s war. You’ve trained for this and then you’re being put in the big game. I was going to compare it to the Super Bowl because it has that intensity but it’s really more than that. It’s playing for keeps. It’s life and death. I wasn’t a Sergeant yet, so I wasn’t a leader but I was preparing for that role. One of the first things we did when we got to Afghanistan was doing out-station buildups. We were building those small Forward Operating Bases and driving all over the country. There were a lot of long range movements and we didn’t really have body armor at the time or much of it. We had no armor on our vehicles either but there wasn’t really much going on in the way of IEDs. It was more of just gunfire and RPGs coming in. We didn’t get a very good brief on the culture before we got there.
I’d been to Juarez a few times so I thought that’s kind of what Afghanistan would be like. I got there and I thought, “If Juarez is 3rd world then what do they classify this place as (laughs)?” It was tough. It was interesting learning about the culture though. I remember going down to the local market and a lot of the people were just as interested in us as we were in them. We’d barter with them and one of the things they really appreciated was our hygiene products. I remember taking contact for the first time and seeing that first enemy killed. We had a Green Beret on our base that was shot and killed during that deployment. It really awoke you to the reality of warfare. It was a good deployment overall though. I was happy to be there with some incredible soldiers. I was there with the best.
What was that like dealing with death the first time?
LP: It was tough dealing with death the first time. I saw the enemy go down right in front of me. It’s one of those things where I didn’t take it too hard because he was a bad guy. He was trying to kill us but it’s still one of those things that you don’t ever want to have to do or see. It’s a necessity of the job though. You make a choice and it’s really either you, your buddies or them. My guys were great guys and that guy was a dirtbag so he was going to die. The weird part was when we got from the mission and we had to write these sworn statements about what happened. My Platoon Leader had been in multiple Special Operations units and had been doing that kind of stuff for a long time. He pulled me aside and made sure that I was okay. It affects everyone a little differently. I remember him doing that really excelled my confidence in him as a leader. He took my sworn statement and told me to go back to my room and rest. He taught me what good leadership looked like and how I should be treating people under my command.
What was the most frightening time for you in combat?
LP: I don’t think there was a “most frightening” day in combat. Every day was a hard day. Every time we left the wire it was my job as a leader to watch out for the guys to my left and right. There’s no way to be ready for that kind of responsibility. There were a lot of close calls. I remember Polish ambushes where people were shooting at us from three different sides. There were times when I’d have to walk out into an open wadi and establish comms with the rest of my unit and all of a sudden the wall next to me would start to disintegrate from RPK fire across the river bed. It makes the pucker factor go up quite a bit but I don’t think you can compare missions as far as them being frightening. They were all dangerous missions. There were some hard climbs in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, dealing with the heat, cold, and sometimes you get stuck outside the wire longer than expected. Your planned EXFIL doesn’t happen for a day or two and you start to wonder when you’re going to get out of there. The hardest missions were the ones where I lost brothers. In the moment, it’s not that hard because I was so enthralled by everything that’s going on but I had that down time after the mission where I thought about the guys I lost. That was difficult. Going to those memorials on the base was when it started sinking in the most.
Can you explain to civilians what loss in combat is like?
LP: It’s loss of family. Sometimes we aren’t with our family when they pass but to be there when your brothers are killed while serving alongside you is a tough thing to deal with. There’s this young man that’s left his family behind back in the states to go out and defend our country and his future was stopped at that moment. Anything else he would’ve done in his life was stolen at that moment. I tried not to dwell on the dark side and to focus on the guys I still had with me. That’s how I moved on from loss. I didn't focus on revenge so much but I definitely want to get as many of those guys as I could, so I could prevent that from happening again. That was always one of my biggest things. I didn’t join the military to go to war. I joined the military to make a difference. I wanted to affect the soldiers around me and to make a difference in the life of my family and the country that I love. I also wanted to make a difference for the people of that indigenous country.
What happened that day?
LP: We got an alert that an HVT (high value target) was operating in the area and they didn’t know exactly where but they stood down all Special Operations units and said whoever’s vicinity that HVT popped up in would be the one to action on that target. It just so happened that we got back from a mission, we were standing down, and I went into the planning bay while everyone else was sleeping. I was going in there to check e-mails or something. There was one officer in the bay and he jumped up and told me to go wakeup the pilots and everyone else. I was thinking, “Just do it.” I didn’t ask any questions before I went to go wakeup my guys and make sure they were ready to go. I went to the chow tent where I went to go grab some lickies and chewies (beef jerky, other snacks).
Prior mission, we’d been out longer than expected and the guys’ morale had dropped a bit. Being a leader I grabbed that stuff just to lift them up a bit and keep their minds off the hard things. I saw that the tent I was in was decorated in red white and blue. There was a sheet cake on one of the tables and it said, “Happy Memorial Day.” That’s when it really hit me that our op tempo was so high that we were doing missions almost nightly, and I’d lost track of time completely. We’d been there almost two months. I looked at the cake for a minute and kind of thought about what that day meant, then went to go help plan the mission. Next thing you know we are loading up on three Chinooks to go find that target.
As our helicopter touched down we started taking fire from an open field. My platoon leader and I neutralized that threat immediately and as we cleared the body, we heard that one of our junior squad leaders had gone into the wrong compound. I told the platoon leader I was going to break off and provide overwatch for him. He told me to go for it so I caught up with the squad leader in that compound. I was the last guy in as we breached the compound and we were surrounded by 12 foot walls. I’d say the compound was about 50 x 50. As they started to clear the compound I asked for another guy so I could clear the courtyard. At that time, PFC Robinson bumped me and I started moving. As I started to clear a building adjacent to that area two guys popped up spraying AK-47 rounds from the hip. One of the bullets impacted my left thigh and I did the deer buck but I was able to keep running and got behind another building.
Robinson got hit below his armpit in the side plate. It was about an eight of an inch from going into his vital organs. He didn’t know how bad he was hit at the time and I told him to keep watching one of the corners. My biggest fear was that they were going to run around that corner and finish us off. I prepped a grenade, threw it over, it went off and I’m not sure what that did but it bought us a lull in fire to where Sergeant Higgins could come running over to our position. I immediately told him to check on Robinson and I filled him in on the situation. We had a couple guys injured, we needed reinforcements and were still taking heavy volumes of fire. Next thing we know, we heard a blast and that knocked us over. Higgins yelled, “What the hell was that?”
I realized they were throwing grenades at us so I yelled at everyone to keep their heads down and to keep watching the corners. At that point, my leg really started hurting. I went into a seated position and as I looked to my left and right I noticed a pineapple grenade sitting about a foot behind my guys. It wasn’t there before and I knew that we’d stopped using those a long time ago. I saw it as the obvious threat that it was and didn’t hesitate to pick it up and throw it. As soon as I released it, the grenade exploded and it severed my hand at the wrist. It looked like someone had taken a circular saw to my wrist. I sat up, grabbed it, my radius and ulna were poking out, and there was a meat skirt hanging. There were burns, dirt, debris, and I could smell the blood. Everything was very vivid at the time.
I snapped to reality, grabbed my tourniquet and started to render self-aid. At that point, I checked on two of my guys who had minor shrapnel wounds. One of my first sergeants ran up to me, grabbed me by my kit, and tried pulling me up. He said, “We’re going to get you out of here.” I pushed him away from me and yelled, “We aren’t going anywhere until those SOBs behind the building are dead.” He saw that I was coherent and that I was doing self-aid so he said, “Alright, we’ll be back for you.” I don’t know if they ran low on ammo or what but there was another lull in fire and I was able to grab onto another guy and run to the Casualty Collection Point. As we went in there, I saw blood all over the floor. Guys were getting treated and the doc runs up to me and says, “Petry, we need to check your wounds.” I said, “I’m good. I’ve got a tourniquet on.” He says, “Well, we need to check your legs.” I hadn’t looked down at my legs until then and when I did I saw that my pants were completely covered in blood. It had actually started to soak into my boots.
My mind told me to keep going, but my body was running out of juice. I sat down, they started cutting my boots and pants off, and that’s why I started noticing how bad the gunshots were to my thighs. Miraculously, they missed all the arteries and bone. They put tourniquets on my legs, started packing me into a litter, and started prepping us for an EXFIL. As we got prepped for that EXFIL there was still a small firefight going on. I saw guys pulling security from the roofs. Guys were coming up to me telling me I was going to be alright and I kept telling them, “Get the hell away from me and go pull security (laughs). I don’t want either of us to get shot because you’re over here comforting me.” I got into the helicopter, it took off, and as we started to ascend Higgins looked at me said, “You saved us. You saved us.” I was like, “Alright, shutup and get on the helicopter (laughs).”
They let us off at a dirt airfield called Sharana and the helicopter took off again to support the mission. I was fortunate enough to have two PAs (Physician’s Assistants) with me there on the airfield and they were able to treat all the wounded guys. I remember one of the docs coming up to me and giving me a fentanyl pop. These things looked just like the fun dip candy. I’d never actually seen them before so I bit off the end, chewed it, and threw the stick away and doc looks at me and says, “Petry where’s the fentanyl pop I gave you?” I told him, “I chewed it.” He smacks me across the head and says, “You’re supposed to suck on it, not chew it you idiot! (laughs)” I was like, “Well, it would’ve helped if you’d told me that.” Later on, I could hear the doctors talking over the radios and I heard they lost vitals on one of the guys. I remember thinking it was either Higgins or Robinson. Then I thought, “They were doing better than I was. Maybe I missed something. Maybe they got hurt worse than I was.”
Later, I found out that it was actually a SAW gunner who’d gone back into that compound later, SPC Gathercole. A guy popped up across the courtyard as he began to move across the area and shot him just below the helmet, killing him instantly. It’s always hard to lose guys and that moment kind of made me think about the fact that I was glad to be alive. After that I heard on the radios, “Fixed wing is thirty minutes out.” I thought to myself, “Great, I’m going to die on the side of this airfield. They should’ve just left me at the compound (laughs).” The fixed wing showed up, they started bringing us onto the aircraft, and there was a younger medic there who was on his first deployment. He was doing his best trying to take care of me, but I was freezing because I’d lost so much blood. They finally managed to sedate me and next thing I know I woke up in Germany.
What was it like after that moment?
LP: The Rangers actually allowed me to stay in because of my prosthesis and I got to deploy again. It wasn’t like my normal deployments because they were being really careful with me. This was before I received my Medal of Honor commendation. My Sergeant Major knew how much I wanted to leave the wire though so he got me on a mission outside the gates. As we were rolling outside the wire he calls up to manifest and the Colonel heard my name on the manifest. The Sergeant Major told us this story after the Medal of Honor ceremony. He said, “We got back from the mission and the Colonel says to me, ‘How’d the mission go?’” I replied, “Well sir, I’m not sure. I didn’t take my eyes off Leroy (laughs).'” I guess the Colonel told him he’d have his ass if something happened to me. It was good to go out again, though. It helped me mentally. There were talks that I could still be a squad leader but my biggest concern was that some shortfall of my prosthetic would affect a situation if it went bad on a mission. I didn’t want to be a risk to my guys. It was a great way to get out there and feel like a Ranger again though. I missed that feeling and honestly wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to feel that again.
Talk about finding out about the nomination for the Medal of Honor.
LP: I got the benefit of my 1SG and Commander coming to visit me at BAMC. They flew their wives in to visit with my wife. They flew their kids in to be with my kids. We went out back, smoked cigars, spoke of missions after I left, and that’s when they let me know I’d been recommended for the Medal of Honor. In my mind though, I was thinking about the fact that they hadn’t awarded one to a living veteran since Vietnam. The other thing was that I was a Ranger and I was expected to go above and beyond the call of duty. It didn’t sound to me like it was going to happen. I literally remember thinking, “Fat chance of that happening (laughs).” I went through my medical rehab and was going to transition out of the military. I remember when I made the decision about medical retirement.
I woke up early in the morning that day and got in my car and drove around for like two hours. I was thinking about the future, what I was going to do, and things like that. I called up a Colonel I knew and I said, “Look, I don’t want to get out of the Army. I still believe I can contribute and do more.” He said, “Shit, it’s 3 on the east coast. I need to make some calls.” They ended up making some calls and I enlisted for another five years. I basically asked them to create a job so I could say in the Army. I had a representative from SOCOM who was handling my case and he took care of me and my family. He was taking care of a lot of other families and soldier who were with me at BAMC as well. We didn’t have that up in the Northwest where I’d been. We had a lot of SF groups there and there was nobody to help with transitions. I had all these organizations coming to me wanting to talk about all these different things I could be a part of and the benefits that I could receive. This SOCOM representative got them to backup and let me breathe. This guy served as a buffer for me and he facilitated the needs for me and my family. It was great because it made me want to do this job too and I ended up in that role.
One of the first patients I had was a Special Operations soldier who’d been shot through both his thighs like I'd been. My first patient I’d taken care of had similar injuries to me so that was wild. I remember talking to his parents who’d driven up from Tennessee. They were in the ER and were a little hysterical. They drove all the way from Tennessee and they were very upset. I introduced myself and told them, “I’m sure you know your son is injured but he needs time.” They saw my prosthetic and asked what happened and I told them. My story was able to calm them in that moment. They knew their son be fine after he met me. They were confident in his recovery when I explained to them what I'd been through. A lot of guys I took care of after that actually got pissed because I’d never told them I was recommended for the Medal of Honor. It came out in the news and they came after me like, “You never told me you were recommended for the Medal of Honor!” I just didn’t feel like it was about that. My job was to help them recover.
What was it like when you actually received the commendation?
LP: I remember walking across the quad and guys would walk up to me and tell me about how my commendation had passed various levels like JSOC, CENTCOM, or SOCOM. I told them, “Nah, I haven’t heard anything.” They cared about it for me but I didn’t really care (laughs). I thought, “If I don’t get it, I have a job that I love doing. If it goes through, that’s great because I'll use it as a platform to help other veterans and families of the fallen.” When they told me I’d received it I was shocked because I didn’t think it was going to happen. It was a great feeling knowing it was going to bring recognition to a lot of the fallen Rangers and meaning to the Ranger creed. They were in the fight since day one and I think they’re on trip number twenty-one or twenty-two since the GWOT started. They continue to lead the way.
What was it like to go to the White House?
LP: It was chaos going to the White House. There were so many Rangers there that were so excited to be at my ceremony. They were so proud. It was like a wedding in a lot of ways. It was awesome. All the guys were so pumped to be there and attending. SPC Gathercole’s (RIP) grandma was there and she was a real firecracker. She came out with us one night and she wanted to do shots with us (laughs). We had a great time. When I was up there at the podium for the ceremony and the President was talking all I could hear was the shutter clicks. I felt like all of the flashes were going to blind me. There was a sea of media and I got to look across the room and see all the faces. The majority of the faces were guys on the mission with me and a bunch of politicians I didn’t invite (laughs) but I’ll save that part for another story. The President and Vice President met with the family and the Rangers and it was awesome. A lot of my friends and family really enjoyed it. The escort from Andrews was amazing. We had a private escort and it was such a wild feeling. Rangers never get parades, fan fare, or public recognition at all. This was an opportunity for all of us Rangers to enjoy the success.
Can you talk about your wife and kids and how integral they were to your recovery?
LP: I got to San Antonio within four days so immediately the wife and kids came down to visit. Two days later they had to leave. I was like, “Why do you guys have to go?” I understood though. My oldest daughter was graduating from high school. Everyone was coming to see her graduate. In the meantime, my wife was worrying about me being down in San Antonio injured. I told her not to worry about me and to worry about my daughter. From day one when I woke up in Germany, I started thinking about the littlest things. I thought about the fact that I hadn’t shaved (laughs). I could feel the stubble and I started worrying about some Colonel walking in from my command asking why I wasn’t shaved and upholding the Ranger standard. First thing I asked for from the nurses was a razor (laughs). I started to realize quickly how much it sucked to learn how to do things again with your non-dominant hand. It wasn’t as bad as the Grinch’s hack job but I nicked myself a few times.
My family came back after the graduation and my son wasn’t starting kindergarten until the fall. I was outpatient at the time so I asked my wife to let him stay with me. It was great having him there because I’d leave him with my buddies while I was at an appointment and I’d pick him up and he loved wrestling with those guys and just hanging out. I remember calling home to my wife one time and my son said, “Dad’s buddy put me in a suitcase.” I got on the phone and she says, “Why the hell did you let you friends put our son in a suitcase?” I had to tell her it was a wrestling move (laughs). My son and I learned our ABC’s together because I was learning to write again and he was learning going into kindergarten. It was a special moment for me. It was just so nice to be with my son. It was also nice to be able to talk to the other wounded guys who’d gone further along in their recovery. The community was amazing down there at BAMC.
What advice would you give to the guys who’ve been wounded?
LP: Everyone’s injuries are different and everyone’s transitions are different. The hardest part is when you’re done with that med board and you’re getting out. You have to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. Some of my buddies are content with staying at home and not seeking employment. They talk about the difficulties of getting out and not making an impact anymore. It’s your choice though. Most of those guys that have gotten out support organizations that support our veterans and wounded. The hardest thing is figuring out what you want to do and how you want to get there. You’ve got to make the most out of those milestones and goals. I will tell those that haven’t done it, “Get your education.” I’m working on mine right now.
Granted, I could get a job without a college degree but it’s a goal of mine. It’s another way that I can show my kids that you do things you don’t always have to because it means something substantial. I remember the first time that I made the Dean’s List. I put it on the refrigerator in the house (laughs) and told my kids, “Look at this. This is what you need to do.” The greatest advice I could give to those wounded though would be that it isn’t easy. It’s tough. You need to do the same things you did in the military. You need to lean on your peers, lean on your mentors, and go back to your unit if you need help. There are enough organizations out there that you can get the help you need wherever you’re at in life. Those organizations are not going to just give handouts, but they’re absolutely going to show you how to become whole again.
What did it mean to you to be in the world of Special Operations and to be a Ranger specifically?
LP: I’ll take you back to basic training when I first signed that Ranger contract. Signing that contract does not mean you’re guaranteed to be a Ranger but I remember in basic training finding out who my drill sergeant was. He was the guy in Black Hawk Down who was running around grabbing the coffee. I remember when all the other soldiers in the other platoons were learning the Soldier’s Creed and the Infantryman’s Creed. He had a big 4 x 8 on the wall with the Ranger Creed on it. He looked at our platoon and said, “Men, you don’t need to worry about the Soldier’s Creed or the Infantryman’s Creed. You just need to learn the Ranger Creed. Everything else in the Army’s ethics and code is derived from the Ranger Creed. If you live by this, you’ll have a good life.” It wasn’t just about reciting the creed. It was about living that creed and becoming that creed.
Your life should be the same on and off base. Our command always pushed the idea that we needed to be Rangers off duty just as much as on duty. If you weren’t living out that Ranger Creed off duty, there was a good chance you wouldn’t get to keep that title for very long. It’s really no more than a guideline for values and ethics but that title means a lot. A lot of people complained when we gave up the black beret. I wasn’t affected by it at all. I told the rest of my guys, “Who cares if the rest of the Army gets the black beret. I get that it’s historical but times change. We evolve and we can’t keep things the same forever.” One of the things I emphasized in that little speech was, “It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a red beret, tan beret, black beret, green beret or whatever. The color of your headgear doesn’t define the person wearing it.” When we send our Rangers to some of the Army schools they still have to wear the regular PTs that the rest of the Army wears. But, they always standout because the Rangers have a higher standard. It’s because they live out the Ranger Creed.
What does that Ranger Creed continue to mean throughout your life now that you’re out of the Army?
LP: I still try to set the example for others to follow. That’s part of always being a Ranger and Rangers always leading the way. I take pride in that. I look at the guys that are still serving and I go back to visit those guys all the time. I look at how young those guys are. I guess it must be the same thing the old guys did when I was a young Ranger (laughs). Sometimes I look at them and think, “Was I ever this young when I was in?” No matter what, when you see something stupid in the news the first thing they want to peg on that person is them being a veteran. If that person was a veteran that’ll be the first thing you hear about. I don’t ever want to do something that embarrasses the guys I’ve served with. I always try to think, “How would I feel if another Ranger did this?” I want to be an example for the community and for my kids.
What are you looking to accomplish in your post-service life?
LP: Now that I’m out, I’m looking to give back to other veterans as much as possible. I want to support the wounded and guys that are still on active duty through veteran’s initiatives that impact them the most. I want to mentor as much as I possibly can. I’m working on my degree currently and I want to open up a franchise of my own focused on entrepreneurship. My desire is that my kids grow up to be contributors to our country and not just takers. I also want to be the best possible husband I can be.
How do you see our current culture?
LP: Division is a problem. Demographics are such a problem causer. I wish we could remove those. We talk about America being a melting pot but there are a lot of forced categories in this country. You’re Hispanic, African American, Caucasian, Democrat, Republican, and you have to pick one. You could be independent but that usually leaves you squashed in the middle with no chance of success or anyone caring about your opinion. There’s a slide on demographics even within the Medal of Honor recipients. None of that stuff matters in the military. It doesn’t matter how many people are Hispanic, Caucasian, African American in the military. That says nothing about the fighting force. It should be that way with the commendation as well. Why do we need to know how many Medal of Honor recipients were Hispanic or African American or Caucasian? The medal is based upon action, not the color of your skin.
I wish that scholarships weren’t reserved for certain demographics either. It needs to be based upon your ability to compete. We’ve lost a lot of that competitive edge to challenge ourselves to be better than the guy next door or girl next door. Competition leads to successes. We need to push ourselves and through that we push others around us to be better. We are becoming a lazy country. The ones that are truly successful give that extra 10-20% every single day. If you were solely awarded scholarships based upon your efforts there would be a greater desire to learn. Because in a society based on that, you’re not awarded if you don’t strive. We need America’s brightest to be our leadership because we need our leadership to be able to handle the issues in our country that need to be fixed. We need to be able to step up for others that don’t have a voice.
How do we build a bridge between the veteran society and the civilian society?
LP: I don’t think we have to explain to civilians who we are, nor should we. We need to show them who we are. We need to set the example and be the leaders. Some will hate you for stepping up into that position. They may even call you a “spot-lighter” (laughs) like we did in the Army. You may not even be trying to stand out but you do because of those values and ethics that you exude. Honor, integrity, personal courage, duty, selfless-service and all those Army core values. If you live those, you’re going to stand out naturally. Your work ethic is connected to those values. When the clock hits 5 pm and everyone else drops what they’re doing to get home, veterans should be the ones that stay until the mission is complete. We know that’s how you accomplish the tasks. It’s inherent within us to finish that task. The enjoyment comes from completing the task, instead of just getting to the end of that work day and breathing a sigh of relief. That’s not how we were taught. We were taught to excel and lead the way.
When I joined, Ft. Lewis was an open base. It’s unfortunate it can’t be that way anymore. They stopped that because of the security concerns with 9/11. I remember taking my friends on base and they thought that was so cool. Within the Rangers we had fences around our particular compounds so the big Army always wondered what we were doing behind those fences. Civilians see the same thing with the bases. They have this base in their backyard and they have no idea what’s going on there. A lot of civilians have that inner desire to know what it’s like to serve or what it’s like to be in combat. If we stand as good examples, they’re going to respect us that much more for our service and truly want to know about our service.
If you could do one thing to change the perception that civilians have of veterans what would that be?
LP: I’d change a lot of the misperceptions. A lot of guys join at 17 or 18 and retire from the military at 38, 39 years old. Civilians think it’s so cool that we get to retire at twenty years but Uncle Sam isn’t paying that much (laughs). Most of us go and get jobs after that. There’s also the misconception of wounded guys leaving the hospital and being recovered. You don’t leave the hospital and magically find yourself recovered. Recovery lasts the rest of your life and is a constant process. You’re going to find yourself on that roller coaster of highs and lows. There’s also the misconception that because we were in the Army we’re tough and don’t need help. We are human. We all need help and friendships and mentorships. It’s one of the things that help us thrive.
There needs to be patriotism and respect otherwise we won’t receive the assistance we need post-service. We risked our lives for that patriotism. It can’t just be a 4th of July, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, type of thing. It needs to be a continual patriotism. The last misconception is that every veteran has PTSD. There is that thought that we are cold blooded killers. “I could snap someone’s neck with my barehands (laughs).” It’s not Hollywood. Yeah, we train to kill but we also train to be surgical. There’s no spraying and praying. It’s our job to take out the enemy and save the innocent. It’s difficult because we have a different way of thinking. Yes, there are some people with PTSD out there but you don’t treat them negatively because of their condition. Their condition developed defending our freedom. Everyone’s brain reacts differently to combat and that’s just the truth of it. There are a lot of unseen wounds that a lot of people don’t understand. The easiest way to clear up these misconceptions is for the public to ask questions. If that person doesn’t want to talk about it, ask another veteran. The knowledge is out there. A lack of knowledge creates these misconceptions.
Let's save the lengthy conclusions and go straight to the citation. It's imperative that we never forget the selfless sacrifices that serve as the backbone of our standing freedom. Without actions like Leroy's our country wouldn't be the beacon of liberty it's known as by the rest of the world.