Courage, sacrifice, hero—three words thrown around carelessly these days. Politicians that cross party lines to force compromise on the divisive issues of our day are labeled “courageous.” A professional athlete that makes a bold play, leading his team to victory is deemed “heroic.” An actor who forgoes a big paycheck for the summer blockbuster to work on a small budget documentary is seen as making a “sacrifice.” Don’t get me wrong, these acts are worthy of admiration. But for a nation at war, using these terms irresponsibly does a big disservice to those that serve.
Last Thursday, we were reminded of what true courage, sacrifice, and heroism is all about. At a private White House ceremony, worlds away from the polarizing health care fight and the latest Kanye West stunt, President Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to the family of Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest decoration for military valor. It’s received, not won. And it’s a distinction so rare that in 150 years, less than 3,500 servicemembers have received it. To put it in perspective, this is less than the number of troops that have bravely given their lives during the Iraq war.
Sgt. Monti was only the sixth recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, all posthumously.
Like those honored before him, Sgt. Monti is to be revered for his exceptional bravery and tremendous personal sacrifice. At age 17, before he was eligible to vote, Monti enlisted in the Army. Returning from his first tour in Afghanistan, he was already highly decorated with the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal for valor. A consummate soldier, and equally humble, his own father didn’t know Monti received the Bronze Star until he found it resting, tucked away in his son’s drawer.
But the day that would come to define his gallant service and leave a legacy beyond what many of us could fathom occurred on June 21, 2006 in Gowardesh, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan Border. Sgt. Monti was in charge of a 16-man patrol from the 3rd Squadron of the 71st Calvary Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division. Positioned on a mountaintop, Monti’s team was swarmed by Taliban fighters. While engaging the enemy, Monti simultaneously radioed for help, until he saw that one of his men, Pvt. Brian Bradbury was badly injured, and exposed to enemy fire.
Sgt. Monti’s patrol leader volunteered to rescue Pvt. Bradbury, but Monti insisted he be the one to go, saying: “No, he is my soldier, I’m going to get him.” Despite the intense enemy gunfire, Monti ran into the open and attempted twice to retrieve his wounded comrade. On his third try, he was cut down by a rocket-propelled grenade, and died shortly thereafter. His actions in that moment, however inspired his men to thwart the Taliban fighters, thanks in part to the air support Monti had called for before his death.
This past Sunday would have been Monti’s 34th birthday.
Three days before Jared’s death, I had the honor of meeting his cousin Michelle. Since his death, I’ve been struck by the resilience of Sgt. Monti’s family, and their love for him. A strength and affection that was also evident in Sgt. Monti’s final moments, as he told his men to, “Tell my family I love them.”
In his remarks on Thursday, President Obama said, “It was written long ago that ‘the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet, notwithstanding, go out to meet it.’ Jared Monti saw the danger before him. And he went out to meet it.”
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Cunningham, a member of Monti’s team, put it more simply, “It was pure courage and love for his soldier.”
To his family, our nation owes a debt we can never truly repay. But we can promise to never forget the courage, sacrifice, and heroism that Sgt. Monti represents, and continue to honor all those that have worn this country’s uniform.
Crossposted at www.IAVA.org.