President Donald Trump will posthumously award Staff Sergeant Travis W. Atkins the medal the honor, after he was killed tackling a suicide bomber in Al Yusufiyah, Iraq on June 1st, 2007.
On Tuesday, the White House announced that Atkins, a Catholic, would posthumously receive the nation’s highest honor for a fallen soldier in a ceremony later this month “to commemorate the selfless service and sacrifice of Staff Sergeant Atkins, his son Trevor Oliver and family will join the President at the White House.”
Atkins hailed from Bozeman, Montana and first enlisted in the Army in November of 2000. He first deployed to Iraq in 2003, and was honorably discharged as Sergeant. He attended the University of Montana before reenlisting in 2005 and deploying for a second time to Iraq in August of 2006. A month before he died, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant.
The White House press release describes Atkin’s heroism in tackling a suicide bomber “at the cost of his life, saving the lives of three of his teammates.”
“While serving in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division, Staff Sergeant Atkins engaged in hand-to hand combat with a suspected insurgent. As he attempted to subdue the man, Staff Sergeant Atkins realized the insurgent was attempting to detonate a bomb strapped to his body. When he noticed the insurgent was about to trigger the suicide vest, Staff Sergeant Atkins tackled him, selflessly using his own body to shield his fellow soldiers from the imminent explosion. Staff Sergeant Atkins’ heroic actions, at the cost of his life, saved the lives of three of his teammates.”
Hundreds gathered in his hometown Resurrection Catholic Paris to attend the funeral Mass and burial. At the funeral, Father Val Zdilla spoke on Atkin’s bravery in his last moments on Earth:
“Human lives were saved by his heroic action that can never be forgotten or denied. We now remember Travis and how his life made a difference. He was this nation’s son.”
In 2015, the Washington Post reported on the events of that fateful day in 2007 in Al Yusufiyah, telling Atkin’s heroic tale:
“Atkins’s Humvee was parked on Route Caprice, a dirt road that insurgents seeded with bombs, when another truck radioed up that it had spotted a group of four “military-aged males” walking nearby, acting fishy. Heading toward the intersection with Atkins in the right-front seat, the crew spotted two of the men. To Humvee driver Michael Kistel, the two looked like teenagers. When Atkins swung open the Humvee’s heavy armored door to get out and question them, he left his rifle on his seat and approached with his arms spread wide, trying to act friendly. “You look upset,” Kistel heard Atkins joke to the closer of the two young men as the distance between them closed – “Let me give you a hug.” The next thing Kistel knew, Atkins and the Iraqi were locked together, struggling, Atkins seemingly focusing on grabbing the man’s hands. After a few seconds Kistel saw his squad leader engulf his opponent in a bear hug, lift him off the ground, and slam back down. Then he heard, saw, and felt the explosion, and both men vanished.”
The highest military honor, the Medal of Honor is awarded to those who soldiers who distinguish themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty.” You can read the full statement from the White House here, announcing the award ceremony that will take place later this month on March 27th.