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Obama honors heroism in Afghan war

September 18, 2009|Ann Gerhart | Gerhart writes for the Washington Post.

WASHINGTON — Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti died one sweltering June day in 2006 on a remote ridge in Afghanistan, on his third attempt to get through pounding enemy fire to rescue one of his wounded soldiers.

On Thursday, President Obama recognized Monti with the nation's highest decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action."

Monti -- whose parents, Paul and Janet, received the award on his behalf -- is only the second service member to receive the medal for combat in Afghanistan. He enlisted in the Army at 17, before his 1994 high school graduation in Raynham, Mass. He was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, a veteran at 30 whom his men in the 10th Mountain Division patrol sometimes called "Grandpa."

Nine who survived that day's attack were among those at the White House ceremony Thursday, along with Monti's sister, brother, grandmother and niece and three previous Medal of Honor recipients.

The president cited "words of weight" -- duty, honor, country, service, sacrifice and heroism. "As a people and a culture, we often invoke them lightly. We toss them around freely," Obama said. "But do we truly understand the nature of these virtues?"

Monti himself had wrestled with the weightiness of his responsibilities, fellow soldiers and his father have said, especially when it was his job to call in strikes in areas where the Taliban might have been mingled with civilians.

Obama somberly described that day, with "fire so intense that weapons were shot right out of their hands."

With the enemy so close that the 16 soldiers could hear their voices, Monti grabbed a gun and drove the insurgents back once, threw a grenade when they moved in a second time. An American was down, wounded and in the open. Monti said he would get him.

"Jared Monti saw the danger before him. And he went out to meet it," Obama said. "He handed off his radio. He tightened his chin strap. And with his men providing cover, Jared rose and started to run. Into all those incoming bullets. Into all those rockets."

His final words were clear and calm: "I've made peace with God. Tell my family that I love them."

Monti would have turned 34 this week. Three other soldiers died that day, including the man Monti tried to rescue.

The Medal of Honor was established in 1862, and fewer than 3,500 people have received it. "In our time," Obama said, "these remarkable Americans are literally one in a million."

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Post staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.

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