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Medal of Honor recipient retiring

Master Sgt. Leroy A. Petry ‘excited to start the new chapter’ after 15 years in the Army

Northwest Guardian

Published: 11:45PM July 24th, 2014

After 15 years of serving in the military, Master Sgt. Leroy A. Petry is embracing retirement.

“I’m exited to start the new chapter of my life — Phase Two,” Petry said.

A retirement ceremony was held Wednesday for the Medal of Honor recipient at the Evergreen Theater across from the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment headquarters on Joint Base Lewis McChord.

Petry said retirement represents a mixture of emotions encompassing anxiety, anxiousness and excitement.

Petry had originally planned to devote 20-plus years to the Army, but injuries he suffered in combat and personal issues persuaded him to seek an earlier retirement.

Petry lost his right hand on May 26, 2008, while in combat in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province. Petry was wounded by enemy fire and lost his hand when he threw back an enemy grenade that had landed near him and two fellow Soldiers, Sgt. Daniel Higgins and Pfc. Lucas Robinson. His actions earned him the nation’s highest military honor.

Specialist Christopher Gathercole was killed by enemy fighters when he came to assist his fellow Rangers in battle.

Despite stepping away from the Army, Petry still tries to keep in touch with Robinson and Higgins and said he often thinks about Gathercole.

Petry remembers how everyone called Gathercole ‘Gator’ and was often seen helping the junior Rangers.

“I’ll always remember him as a kid who had a smile on his face,” Petry said.

He said he has heard that the Medal of Honor gets heavier the longer you wear it — meaning the honor can become a burden. But Petry said he has a more positive outlook. He believes it gets lighter the more he shares it with people and the more he brings recognition to the service members who’ve lost their lives.

Petry recalls his Medal of Honor ceremony and the words of President Barack Obama.

“The president said ‘our heroes are all around us,” Petry said.

He took that to mean that there are opportunities for everyone to be a hero.

“You can be a hero to anybody,” he said.

Admiral William McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, served as the ceremony’s guest speaker. He noted that Petry was an extraordinary Soldier even before the day he earned the Medal of Honor.

“The fact is Leroy Petry — before and after the medal — personifies all that is good about the American Soldier,” he said.

After military retirement, Petry said he will focus his attention on a business degree. He plans to earn his associate degree from Pierce College before transferring to the University of Washington-Tacoma. He hopes to eventually own his own business or franchise.

Petry said he’s received a number of job offers, but has chosen to focus on his education instead. He believes his time served in the military has equipped him with unique skills necessary for a bright future. That’s a message he said he shares with other transitioning service members — that they can also succeed after military service.

“You can be anything you want to,” Petry said. “You possess the skills of leadership and time management, ... things you can’t learn in the classroom.”

Petry, who is originally from New Mexico, plans to stay in Washington and make it his home.

“It’s been a great place to raise a family,” Petry said. “The outdoors are great, and it keeps me close to my unit.”

Petry can’t pinpoint the one thing he will miss most about Army life, but said he’ll miss “shooting guns, jumping out of planes, fast-roping” and especially the camaraderie service members share.

The Medal of Honor recipient will mark his last official day in the Army with his 35th birthday on July 29.

Petry said he has no plans for the day.

Veronica Sandate Craker: