WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday praised a U.S. soldier who three times left cover for an attempted rescue while Taliban bullets and grenades rained around him, ultimately losing his own life while trying to save his comrade on an Afghan battlefield.
A somber Obama, standing just feet from Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti's parents, told a White House audience that the 30-year-old soldier's sacrifice should give Americans pause when they throw around words such as duty, honor, sacrifice and heroism.
"Do we really grasp the meaning of these values? Do we truly understand the nature of these virtues, to serve and to sacrifice?" Obama asked. "Jared Monti knew. The Monti family knows. And they know that the actions we honor today were not a passing moment of courage. They were the culmination of a life of character and commitment."
Presenting his first Medal of Honor, Obama lavished praise on the soldier from Raynham, Mass., who was leading a scouting mission along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan when a helicopter deployed to resupply the patrol blew their cover. Taliban fighters converged, and Monti called for backup.
With vivid details, the president told the story of 16 soldiers who were surrounded and outnumbered by insurgents yet kept their position until backup arrived.
"Bullets and heavy machine gunfire ricocheting across the rocks. Rocket-propelled grenades raining down. Fire so intense that weapons were shot right out of their hands," Obama said, explaining the battle to a packed audience at the White House. "Within minutes, one soldier was killed, another was wounded. Everyone dove for cover, behind a tree, a rock, a stone wall."
One of Monti's men, Pvt. Brian Bradbury of St. Joseph, was shot during the encounter. Monti, who enlisted at age 17, twice left cover and ran into the open under intense enemy fire to retrieve the wounded soldier.
"Jared Monti did something no amount of training can instill. His patrol leader said he'd go, but Jared said, 'No, he is my soldier. I'm going to get him,'" Obama recounted.
"Said his patrol leader, it 'was the bravest thing I had ever seen a soldier do,'" Obama continued.
On Monti's third attempt, he was struck by a grenade and died on the field. Three others, including Bradbury, also died during the fight.
"Jared Monti saw the danger before him. And he went out to meet it," Obama said. "Faced with overwhelming enemy fire, Jared could have stayed where he was, behind that wall. But that was not the kind of soldier Jared Monti was."
The award came as the administration is wrestling with its next move in Afghanistan. He already has sent 17,000 additional combat troops to Afghanistan and is weighing sending more to stabilize that nation.
Democrats, however, want specific benchmarks set before Obama goes forward with more combat troops for the region. For his part, Obama stayed away from the Washington debate and focused on the story of what happened on June 21, 2006, when Monti died during a firefight in Gowardesh, Afghanistan.
Monti previously was awarded a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, five Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals and three National Defense Service Medals.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for military valor, typically reserved for members of the military who risk their lives with gallantry beyond the call of duty. Monti is the 3,448 service member to earn the honor.