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The President Presents the Medal of Honor to U.S. Navy Senior Chief Edward Byers, Jr.



Male Speaker: Let us pray. Heavenly father,
be with us today, as we gather to see Senior
Chief Edward Byers receive our country's highest
military honor from the hands of the President. We offer you our thanks
for the integrity, generosity of spirit, and
valor that marks Senior Chief Byers life in
service to our country. We offer you our thanks for
the rescue of Dr. Joseph. We thank you for restoring
both of them safely to the embrace of those
who love them. At the same time, our hearts
go out to petty officer Nicholas Check and to
his family and friends. May a grateful America
always remember and honor his service and
his sacrifice. Amen. Multiple Speakers: Amen. The President: Please be seated. Well, good morning, everyone. And welcome to
the White House. The ethos — the creed —
that guides every Navy SEAL says this: "I do not
advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition
for my actions." Which is another way of
saying that standing here today, in front of
the entire nation, is not Senior Chief Ed
Byers's idea of a good time. (laughter) Like so many of our
special operators, Ed is defined by a deep
sense of humility. He doesn't seek
the spotlight. In fact, he shuns it. He's the consummate
quiet professional. I imagine there are a lot of
other places he'd rather be than in front of
all these cameras. Back in Coronado for
another Hell Week. Holding his breath under
dark, frigid water. Spending months being
cold, wet and sandy. I'm sure there are other
things he'd rather be doing. But the Medal of Honor
is our nation's highest military decoration. And today's ceremony is
truly unique — a rare opportunity for the American
people to get a glimpse of a special breed of warrior
that so often serves in the shadows. We're a nation of more than
300 million Americans. Of these, less than one
percent wear the uniform of our armed forces. Of these, just a small
fraction serve in our Special Operations forces. Among those who train
to become a SEAL, only a select few emerge and
earn the right to wear that golden Trident. And consider this: In the
entire history of the Navy SEALs, just five have been
awarded the Medal of Honor. Their names have
become legend. Norris. Kerrey. Thornton. Murphy. Monsoor. And now, a sixth — Byers. Among the members of the
Medal of Honor Society who are with us, we are
especially honored by the presence of Tommy Norris
and Mike Thornton. (applause) Now, given the nature
of Ed's service, there is a lot that
we cannot say today. Many of the operational
details of his mission remain classified. Many of his teammates
cannot be mentioned. And this is as it should be. Their success
demands secrecy, and that secrecy
saves lives. There are, however, many
distinguished guests that we can acknowledge, including
members of Congress, leaders from across
our military, including the Navy. In fact, this may be the
largest gathering of special ops in the history
of the White House. Among them, we have, from
Special Operations Command, General Joe Votel and
Vice Admiral Sean Pybus. From Joint Special
Operations Command, Rear Admiral Tim Szymanski. And from Naval Special
Warfare Command, Rear Admiral Brian Losey,
and Force Master Chief Derrick Walters. For America's
special operators, this is a little bit of a
family reunion and it's wonderful to have
them all here. Most of all, we welcome Ed's
wonderful family — his wife Madison, who like so many
military spouses has kept their family strong back
home while Ed has been deployed; their spectacular
daughter, Hannah, who is a competitive figure
skater and looks the part. (laughter) Ed likes to jump out of
planes with a parachute, and when he's not skydiving,
he's driving his 1976 Shovelhead Harley. When he's not out riding,
he's staying in shape with Hannah, who is apparently
his workout partner. (laughter) It's good when your
trainer is a Navy SEAL. (laughter) We also welcome mom's
— Ed's mom Peggy, who I understand had one
question when Ed told her about this ceremony — "Do
you think I can come?" (laughter) That's so sweet. Yes, mom, you're allowed to
come when your son gets the Medal of Honor. (laughter) Ed's brothers and
sisters are here, as are about 50 cousins from
all across the country. And dozens of friends —
many who served alongside Ed — some who have travelled
from around the world to be here today. That's the brotherhood —
the depth of loyalty to service and to mission —
that binds these teams. Now, looking back, it seems
Ed Byers was destined to serve. His father served in the
Navy during World War II and now rests in Arlington. As a boy growing up
in Grand Rapids, Ohio, Ed would be in the woods, in
camouflage, in his words, "playing military" — and I
suspect the other kids did not stand a chance. (laughter) A Boy Scout who
loved adventure, Ed saw a movie about the
Navy SEALs and fell in love with the idea of deploying
by sea, air and land. "I believe that man
will not merely endure. He will prevail," William
Faulkner once said, "because he has a soul, a
spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice
and endurance." Even if he had never
performed the actions for which he is being
recognized here today, Ed Byers would be long
remembered for his compassion, his sacrifice
and his endurance. Eleven overseas deployments. Nine combat tours. Recipient of the
Purple Heart — twice. The Bronze Star with
valor — five times. About three years ago, our
nation called on that spirit once again. In Afghanistan, an American
doctor — a husband and father of four children who
was working to bring health care to the Afghan people
— was driving down a rural road. Gunmen surrounded his car
and took him hostage. They tied his hands and
marched him into the mountains. The days went by. In a remote valley, in a
small single-room building, surrounded by Taliban,
he lost all hope. "I was certain," he thought,
"I was about to die." His captors told him, the
Americans are not coming for you. Well, they were wrong. Whenever Americans are
taken hostage in the world, we move heaven and earth
to bring them home safe. We send some thunder and
some lightning — our special operator forces,
folks like Ed Byers. They're carefully selected
for their character, their integrity
and their judgment. They are highly trained,
with skills honed by years of experience. And they willingly
volunteer for missions of extraordinary risk,
like this one. In this case, there was
reason to believe that a Taliban commander was on his
way to take custody of the American hostage and
move him into Pakistan. So time was of the essence. From a remote forward
operating base, Ed and his joint team geared
up, boarded their helos, and launched. Once on the ground, they
moved — under the cover of darkness, on that cold
December night — through the mountains, down
rocky trails, for hours. They found their
target and moved in, quickly and quietly. Then, when they were less
than a hundred feet from the building, a guard came out,
and the bullets started flying. Our SEALs rushed
to the doorway, which was covered by
a layer of blankets. Ed started
ripping them down, exposing himself
to enemy fire. A teammate, the
lead assaulter, pushed in and was hit. Fully aware of the
danger, Ed moved in next. An enemy guard aimed
his rifle right at him. Ed fired. Someone moved across the
floor — perhaps the hostage; perhaps another
guard lunging for a weapon. The struggle was
hand-to-hand. Ed straddled him,
pinning him down. Ed adjusted his
night vision goggles. Things came into focus, and
he was on top of a guard. The American hostage later
described the scene. The dark room suddenly
filled with men and the sound of exploding gunfire. Narrow beams of light
shot in every direction. Voices called out his name. He answered,
"I'm right here." Hearing English, Ed leapt
across the room and threw himself on the hostage,
using his own body to shield him from the bullets. Another enemy fighter
appeared, and with his body, Ed kept shielding
the hostage. With his bare hands, Ed
pinned the fighter to the wall and held him until
his teammates took action. It was over almost
as soon as it began. In just minutes, by going
after those guards, Ed saved the lives of
several teammates — and that hostage. You're safe, the
SEALs told the doctor, you are with
American forces. And that hostage came home
to be reunited with his wife and his children. Now, success came
with a price. That first SEAL through
the door — Ed's friend, Nic — was
grievously wounded. Ed is a medic, so
on the helo out, he stayed with Nic, helping
to perform CPR the entire flight — 40 minutes long. Today, we salute Chief Petty
Officer Nicolas Checque. Back in Monroeville,
Pennsylvania, they remembered him as the
driven kid — the football player and wrestler who
always wanted to be a SEAL. For his valor
on this mission, he was awarded
the Navy Cross, and he's among the 70
members of the Naval Special Warfare community — 55 of
them SEALs — who have made the ultimate
sacrifice since 9/11. The enduring love of Nic's
family and all those who admired him remind us of the
immense sacrifices that our remarkable Gold Star
families have made, and our obligation to
stand with them always. So today, we don't simply
honor a single individual. We also pay tribute to a
community across our entire military — special
operators, aviators, engineers,
technicians, analysts, countless enablers, and
their devoted families. In these hard
years since 9/11, our nation has called on
this community like never before. Small in number, they have
borne an extraordinarily heavy load. But they continue
to volunteer, mission after mission,
year after year. Few Americans ever see it. I am truly privileged
and humbled that, as Commander-in-Chief,
I do get to see it. I've given the order sending
you into harm's way. I see the difference you
make every day — the partners you train, the
relationships you forge, the other hostages that
you've brought home, the terrorists
that you take out. I've waited,
like many of you, in those minutes that seem
like hours when the margin between success and
failure is razor thin, for word that the
team is out safe. I've grieved with you and
I've stood with you at Dover to welcome our fallen heroes
on their final journey home. Our Special Operations
forces are a strategic national asset. They teach us that humans
are more important than hardware. Today is a reminder that our
nation has to keep investing in this irreplaceable asset,
which means deploying our Special Operators wisely,
preserving force and family, making sure these incredible
Americans stay strong in body, in mind and in spirit. So I'll end where I started
— with the SEAL ethos: "In times of war or uncertainty,
there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer
our nation's call. A common man with uncommon
desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he
stands alongside America's finest Special Operations
forces to serve his country, the American people, and
protect their way of life." Senior Chief Edward
Byers, Jr. is such a man. Chief Petty Officer Nicolas
Checque was that man. Every Navy SEAL and Special
Operator who serves with honor in his chosen
profession is that man. The American people may
not always see them. We may not always
hear of their success. But they are there in
the thick of the fight, in the dark of night,
achieving their mission. We thank God they're there. We sleep more peacefully in
our beds tonight because patriots like these stand
ready to answer our nation's call and protect our way of
life — now and forever. And as we prepare for the
reading of the citation, I ask you to join me in
expressing America's profound gratitude to Navy
SEAL Ed Byers and all our quiet professionals. (applause) Military Aide: The President
of the United States, in the name of the Congress,
takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Chief
Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers, Jr., United States Navy: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at
the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty
as a Hostage Rescue Force Team Member in Afghanistan
in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM on
8-9 December 2012. As the rescue force
approached the target building, an enemy sentry
detected them and darted inside to alert
his fellow captors. The sentry quickly
reemerged, and the lead assaulter
attempted to neutralize him. Chief Byers, with his team,
sprinted to the door of the target building. As the primary breacher,
Chief Byers stood in the doorway fully exposed to the
enemy fire while ripping down six layers of heavy
blankets fastened to the inside ceiling and walls to
clear a path for the rescue force. The first assaulter pushed
his way through the blankets, and was mortally
wounded by enemy small arms fire from within. Chief Byers, completely
aware of the imminent threat, fearlessly rushed
into the room and engaged an enemy guard aiming
an AK-47 at him. He then tackled another
adult male who had darted towards the corner
of the room. During the ensuing
hand-to-hand struggle, Chief Byers confirmed the
man was not the hostage and engaged him. As the other rescue team
members called out to the hostage, Chief Byers heard a
voice respond in English and raced toward it. He jumped atop the American
hostage and shielded him from the high volume of
fire within the small room. While covering the
hostage with his body, Chief Byers immobilized
another guard with his bare hands, and restrained the
guard until a teammate could eliminate him. His bold and decisive
actions under fire saved the lives of the hostage and
several of his teammates. By his undaunted courage,
intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion
to duty in the face of near-certain death, Chief
Petty Officer Byers reflected great credit upon
himself and upheld the highest traditions of the
United States Naval Service. (applause) Male Speaker: Let us pray. Lord of earth,
and sea, and sky, as we conclude this moving
and beautiful ceremony, we offer you our prayers
for the country we serve. You have blessed America
with riches and with strength. May we use them to make this
world of yours more just, peaceable, and humane. You have blessed America
also with the tradition of heroism like that of
Senior Chief Byers, and his brethren in arms. May all of us
treasure that history, and may it inspire all
of us to serve bravely, generously, and faithfully. Amen. Multiple Speaker: Amen. The President: Well, that
concludes the ceremony, but we actually throw a
pretty good party here. (laughter) And I've been told the hors
d'oeuvres are pretty good. So we welcome all of you to
join us in the reception. Ed and I are going to have
to take a few more pictures before he joins you. But we are so
grateful to him, we're grateful to his
wonderful family. Mom, I'm glad that
you could come. (laughter) We are grateful for our
other Medal of Honor recipients who are here. And to all the Special
Forces who are here, we are extraordinarily
grateful to you. This is obviously an award
for individual heroism, but I'm glad we were able to
make the broader point — we are so grateful for your
service to our nation. Thank you very
much, everybody. God bless. God bless America. (applause)

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