Former U.S. soldier and Medal of Honor Recipient, Ryan Pitts speaks on behalf of veterans

Pitts is currently the ninth living Medal of Honor recipient.

From an uncoordinated child who lacked motivation and did not partake in many team sports or activities, Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts said joining the U.S. Army was like joining “the largest team in the world.”

MU students and community members including veterans and those who plan to enlist in the military gathered at 7:30 p.m Nov. 12 at Jesse Auditorium to honor Pitts and hear him speak on his experience serving in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2009.

The event was sponsored by the Mizzou Student Veterans Association, the Mizzou Speakers Series, the Organization Resource Group, Veterans United and the MSA/GPC Speakers Committee on behalf of National Veterans Awareness Week.

“We are honored to have him at the university,” said Landon Jones, sophomore and co-chair of the MSA/GPC Speakers Committee. “I think it means a lot to our student veterans and veterans in Columbia in general. It’s been an honor for me to thank him for his service.”

Pitts began his speech by reflecting on his childhood. He said he was an uncoordinated child and did badly at sports. He took to the solitary task of carrying out work on his family farm in New Hampshire.

As a high school senior, Pitts said he was unsure about what to pursue beyond high school, so he did not want his family to undertake the burden of his college tuition.

Instead, at the age of 17, he decided the U.S. Army may be a better alternative to college for him. Pitts said he had friends who also enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Pitts worked his way up to becoming a Staff Sergeant, and has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Badge, and the highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

Pitts is currently the ninth living Medal of Honor recipient. President Barack Obama presented him with the award on July 21, 2014 for courageously handling an assault on the Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base by an enemy force of more than 200 members on July 13, 2008.

“Courage is not the absence of fear,” Pitts said he learned from a fellow soldier. “It’s the ability to move forward in the face of it. Whatever you think your limitations are, they are not.”

Pitts shared stories of his experiences in the army, and the bonds he formed with his fellow soldiers.

“From the beginning until the end, it’s not like it’s the leaders and then the subordinates,” Pitts said. “We came together like this family who would risk their lives for each other. Our brothers to our left and right were more important than ourselves.”

He said that despite disagreements the soldiers may have had, the U.S. Army was like a family, and they loved and respected each other.

“Our differences are the things that make us unique, not the things that separate us,” Pitts said. “There were people from all over the country and from other countries who came together to fight for this country. We fought with everything we had for each other. The team is greater than any one individual.”

When reflecting upon his most recent award, the Medal of Honor, Pitts described his appreciation for the men and women he fought with.

“I am just a caretaker,” Pitts said. “This award represents all of the men and women who put on the uniform, and it is a memorial to the people who didn’t come home. I got so much more than I gave, and it’s because of the people I served with. It was the honor of my lifetime.”

Having Ryan Pitts come speak is “a good way to commemorate Veterans Day, and extend Veterans day for the week instead of just one day,” sophomore Allison Scott said. “Members of the armed forces sacrifice more than one day; sometimes it’s a lifetime that they and their families sacrifice, so they deserve more recognition.”

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