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EXCLUSIVE: Trump Awards Posthumous Medal Of Honor To Army Hero

By  Sand Aijo
DailyWire.com

Sand Aijo is a former U.S. Army Sergeant and Infantryman. He attended the March 27, 2019 White House ceremony in which President Trump posthumously issued Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins the Medal of Honor. Aijo was present in Iraq on June 1, 2007, when Atkins sacrificed his life to save his comrades, including Aijo, by tackling a suicide bomber. Below is an account, exclusive to The Daily Wire, of Aijo’s memories of Atkins and that fateful day.

My name is Sand Aijo. I was the gunner in my good friend Travis Atkins’s Humvee while we were deployed in Iraq. On June 1, 2007, I witnessed Travis’s heroic actions that saved my life and the lives of two others.

From an early age, I dreamed to become a soldier. While many in my family have served, I had a close bond with my grandpa who was an Army Infantryman during the Korean War. I enlisted in the Army when I was 17 and left for basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in June 2005 — two weeks after graduating from high school.

I later arrived at Fort Drum in New York in December 2005, where I was assigned to 2nd Platoon, Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division. I quickly realized it was exactly where I belonged.

I met Travis in the summer of 2006, not long before we deployed to Iraq. I think destiny brought Travis to Delta Company. An unexpected situation necessitated replacing my first team leader with Travis, who stepped in without hesitation. This may not seem like a big deal to civilians, but imagine this: Travis had spent months training one team for combat. He had established the required rapport to manage that team effectively in a combat zone. Then, he was asked to give all that up to lead a group that had never met him. I don’t know why he agreed to do that, but if you knew Travis, his decision wouldn’t surprise you. Travis believed in something greater than himself, and he knew the Army needed him as a leader in Delta Company. Travis knew there were young men he could help and lead in one of the world’s most hostile environments. One thing is clear: Travis was a natural fit for our group. It didn’t take long before he was part of the family.

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In the summer of 2006, we were deployed to an area south of Baghdad that soldiers refer to as the “Triangle of Death.” While deployed, you spend a lot of time with the people in your platoon. Being the turret gunner in Travis’s Humvee, I practically spent twenty-four hours each day with him.

Here is what happened that lead to Travis being posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor:

It was a hot, sunny morning on June 1, 2007 when Travis, myself, our driver, and our medic sat in our Humvee around the town of Abu Samak, Iraq, while participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It had been almost ten months since we left America. I was in the gun turret of the Humvee when a radio call came in. Four suspicious men were walking by the road, attempting to cross where they were not allowed. We fired up the Humvee and raced to intervene.

The majority of Iraqis are good people, so the Army gives its soldiers, including Travis and me, extensive military training to learn how to analyze behavior to differentiate between ordinary locals and potential combatants. We pulled up to the suspects, and I immediately instructed them to comply with us. There were only two men by that point; the others had fled. The men glared at me with weird, glassy looks in their eyes. They faced me, but continued fidgeting, as if getting ready to make some kind of move. This is when I pointed my machine gun right at them, reminding them it wouldn’t be wise to do anything foolish. Travis exited the truck, and began talking to them. I switched from my machine gun to my M4 rifle, as this allowed me to provide better cover while “friendlies” were on the ground. Our medic joined Travis to separate the suspects, and our driver opened his door, preparing to help. As our medic began to walk one of the suspects away, the suspect with whom Travis was talking began fighting with Travis. I attempted to provide cover over both men, but things quickly escalated. Soon, Travis wrapped up the suspect and slammed him to the ground.

To be honest, my first thought was of how impressive the slam was. But I was quickly confused as to why Travis kept the suspect wrapped up on the ground. The way Travis was positioning his body over the man made no sense to me.

In the next few seconds, time nearly stopped. There was a sudden, loud boom. Everything in front of me was engulfed in smoke and dust. I was thrown back a little, but unharmed. “What just happened?,” I thought. Visibility was mostly lost, but I saw the second suspect running out of the haze. Instinct took over. I began firing as he tried to dive into the open driver’s door, and he fell down. I later counted that I had fired twelve shots and learned that our medic had also been firing at him. Suddenly, that man detonated, too. The glassy look I had observed earlier now made sense: heavy drug consumption is a common tactic employed before a suicide attack. These two men were suicide bombers with grenade-detonated suicide vests.

I called the situation on the radio, but I don’t think reality had set in for anyone. As another truck from our platoon arrived, we began calling for Travis. I knew what I had just seen, but part of me held confidence that Travis was ok. Yet as more support arrived, I began realizing the devastation around me. Random body parts lined the road. My top half was covered in what I guess is left behind when someone decides to blow themselves up. The smell is something I can’t describe, but is also something I can never forget. I sat in the gun turret, pulling security as the search for Travis continued. I was beginning my second pack of cigarettes when my friend’s body was found.

When we returned to headquarters, the chaplain was waiting. As our chaplain hugged me, the emotion I had bottled up over the past several hours finally poured out. As I cried, so many thoughts crossed my mind. I missed Travis. His body positioning that seemed so weird suddenly made sense. He had actively chosen to sacrifice his life to protect his platoon mates. Forensics soon discovered that the suicide bomber’s vest had ball bearings and other metal meant to cause serious harm.

Shortly after crying with the chaplain, I carried my friend, draped in an American flag, onto a plane to send him home to his family in Montana. I remember that night as vividly as I remember the day that led to it.

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Much of this essay has focused on Travis’s heroic death, but here is what I think should be remembered about his life.

I’d like to tell a story that emphasizes the person Travis was. One day, we were on patrol in Iraq when we received word Iraqi men were in our vicinity with rifles. Travis led our group to the targets, keeping everyone calm and collected. He quickly realized that the men simply had an air rifle; they were just hunting birds. For their safety, the men had to give up the air rifle. Yet instead of just taking it from them, as he easily could have, Travis actually bought it from them so that they could use that money to buy food. Ensuring that our team showed respect toward Iraqi civilians was important to Travis.

Travis was a disciplined leader with high expectations. I’d compare him to a tough big brother. But while he was tough, you knew he cared about you. Travis made me a better man, a better soldier, and ultimately, a better leader.

Travis Atkins was extremely down to earth and had an amazing sense of humor. He loved heavy metal music. He was always there when you needed something, even if that something was just a pinch of dip. One of my best memories is Travis sharing the delicious elk jerky his dad Jack would send us. I will never forget the love Travis had for his son, Trevor. We were privy to every update from home, and Travis was beyond proud of Trevor. Travis loved his country and the Army, but Trevor was the greatest part of his life.

Without the courageous action Travis took on June 1, 2007, I wouldn’t be here today to tell this story. Soldiers are always extremely cautious to use this phrase, but Travis Atkins is a True American Hero.

They say time heals all wounds. I don’t know if that’s true. To be honest, I try not to think about those days, but rather to remember the man who sacrificed so I can be here today. I have tried to live in a way that makes Travis’s sacrifice worthwhile.

Working out is something I do almost everyday, and is very important to me. I was assigned to the 5th Ranger Training Battalion when I got back from Iraq and I learned the tradition of doing an extra rep for “the airborne ranger in the sky”. This is an extra repetition you do at the end of an exercise to remember your fallen brothers who look down on us all. It may seem silly to some, but to this day, every workout, every exercise, I do this extra rep.

I do it as a thank you to Travis.

I do it to show Travis that I’ll always do that little bit more than is expected. He still makes me stronger everyday.

The fact that Travis Atkins is receiving the Medal of Honor brings out many emotions for me. Millions of men and women have served in America’s military, many have died, but only about 3,400 of them have received the Medal of Honor.

I am happy to know that Travis’s sacrifice meant so much to not only me, but to a grateful nation. On June 1, 2007, the Army lost an amazing soldier, the world lost an amazing man, the Atkins family lost a son and father, and I lost a brother.

Travis Atkins was only 31 years old when he died to save our comrades and me. As John 15:13 puts it, “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Below is a video produced by the Medal of Honor team for the U.S. Army honoring Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins:

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  1. U.S. Army
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