Medal of Honor recipient Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry answers a question during an Associated Press interview at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 22. (Bruce Smith / AP)
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CHARLESTON, S.C. — A Medal of Honor recipient who was given the nation’s highest military award for protecting comrades during a fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2008, said Tuesday that leadership requires working together, resiliency and responsibility.
“Being a leader entails teamwork and all that goes along with teamwork. And it means resiliency and being prepared for anything you may have to face,” Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry told The Associated Press in an interview during a visit to The Citadel.
Petry came to the state military college to discuss leadership with cadets. On Wednesday he will participate in the college’s third annual Leadership Day and will visit patients at the Charleston VA Hospital along with cadets.
Petry, 34 and from New Mexico, lost his right hand in the action for which he was awarded the medal. He now works out of Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., with wounded warriors and ill and injured members of their families.
In May of 2008, fighting members of the Taliban in a house courtyard, Petry picked up a live grenade that had fallen near other Army Rangers in his unit. As he picked it up to throw it back, it exploded in his hand.
Having coped with his own injury, he can relate to wounded warriors. “I think the best part about it is seeing their great attitudes toward recovery,” he said.
At first, patients turn inward, he said.
“A lot of things go through your mind — the depression of ‘Woe is me and why me and what do I do now?’” he said. But once on the road to recovery and into rehabilitation, things change.
“Being around other injured soldiers and service members, they get that camaraderie again and know I’m not by myself and other people are helping me,” he said.
Despite his injury, Petry says he doesn’t have any second thoughts about choosing to serve the nation. “I’ve enjoyed every aspect of my career. I don’t think there are any regrets,” he said.
Earlier he told cadets in a class that leadership is being responsible for those who are in your care. In war, he said, you sometimes must deploy and you can’t control the environment, and soldiers are lost.
“You have to be confident knowing that if you have to go to that graveside and hand that folded flag to a surviving mother — father, spouse or whatever — that you can look them in the eye and hand that flag to them and know you did your best to keep their child safe and alive,” he said.