July 21, 2011
By Marisa Petrich, Northwest Guardian
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., – Not everyone gets tips on penmanship from a president. But then, not everyone is Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry, an Army Ranger and recent Medal of Honor recipient.
Petry lost his right hand in Afghanistan in 2008 throwing an enemy grenade away from himself and his fellow Rangers.
Since then he’s had to learn to use his left hand instead — and helpful hints from lefty President Barack Obama are only part of Petry’s surreal experience since.
“I think it’s actually made me stronger. It’s given me a better outlook,” Petry said of his award at a press conference at 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment Headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Tuesday.
Petry, originally from Santa Fe, N.M., only recently returned from last week’s Medal of Honor award ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Since then Petry has been receiving a lot more attention, due in part to stopping in New York for a series of television appearances, including NBC’s “Today” show, “The Daily Show” and “Fox and Friends.”
Petry and his wife even dropped in on Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire Wednesday for a visit and tour of her office at the state capitol in Olympia.
But some of the things that have remained the same are who he is and what he does with wounded warriors at JBLM as part of the U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition.
“It won’t change me and how I help Soldiers,” he said.
In fact, Petry said he learns just as much from the wounded, injured and ill servicemembers he helps as they do from him. Watching them go through the recovery process bolsters his own, and reminds him why he stayed in the military after losing his hand.
At one point after losing his hand, he considered getting out of the Army. He was receiving plenty of generous job offers that made him stop and think about what he really wanted out of life.
He found it wasn’t money and it wasn’t fame. It was making a contribution.
If anything, Petry hopes to use his position to aid other servicemembers.
“People look at you different. Your voice is heard a lot more,” Petry said. “I have an easier way into the ears of those who can change things,” he said.
He hopes that will be one of few lingering differences when he returns to work at JBLM in October. Right now strangers stop him to ask for pictures, and he isn’t letting his celebrity status get to him.
“Those who were in my life before know that I haven’t changed and I don’t plan on changing,” Petry said.
In fact, a lot of those people were waiting for him when he arrived at his home in Steilacoom, Wash., on Monday night. Friends of his four kids were holding homemade signs, and neighbors had laid out food in the driveway and decorated their houses and cars to welcome him back.
Petry’s Ranger buddies also help keep him humble, joking and teasing him as much as they ever did.
These are some of the people he considers his own heroes. Members of his community, Army leaders and others are the ones who keep him motivated.
In fact, he knows the real challenge of having the Medal of Honor is still ahead of him. While reading a book about past recipients, one comment stuck with him.
“It’s a lot easier to earn than it is to wear,” Petry said.