Society diversity

Ex-Paratrooper Leaves Army Diversity to Join Fractured Civil Society

Ryan Pitts (left) and Rich Barbato

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The people he relied on in literal life or death situations were black, white, and every shade in between. Atheists and super religious would argue for hours in their free time.

But once the fights were over, “they didn’t care. They just liked to give each other a hard time,” said Ryan Pitts, a retired US Army sergeant. and Medal of Honor recipient.

What really mattered was that everyone in the unit knew they had each other’s backs, he said. “I learned when I wore the uniform that different doesn’t mean divided,” Pitts said. He likened this approach to the fractured political scene outside the military.

Pitts’ five-year military career came to an end on July 13, 2008 in Afghanistan, when he was seriously injured defending his observation post from attack.

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He was speaking on Saturday at the first of a series of events leading up to the grand opening next spring of the Global War on Terror Bridge on the High Street.

The rail bridge will be renamed to “commemorate sacrifice and recognize service”, said Rich Barbato, who organized the event with East Essex District Veterans Services Department Director Karen Tyler.

He said it would also remind veterans that they are not alone and that help is available after they leave service, he said. A former paratrooper now with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Barbato said 30 of the soldiers he fought with in Iraq have committed suicide since 2004.

Saturday’s talk was also to feature Christie Coombs, who lost her husband, Jeff, in the September 11, 2001 attacks. However, she had a health scare that day and ended up going to the hospital to be checked for flu-like symptoms.

Pitts was born in Lowell in 1985 and grew up in Nashua, NH. He said he joined up because he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life.

At first he hated the army. He even kept a little notebook with all the reasons he wouldn’t re-enlist after he was four, he said. The elders laughed at him, predicting that he would change his mind, but he kept pointing at his book.

But “In fine print, you’re eight years away,” Pitts said. By the end of his four years, he was enjoying life in the army, he added.

After being flown home, Pitts said he spent about 30 days in the hospital and spent another “six to eight months” in physiotherapy.

Adjusting to civilian life proved just as difficult as serving in the military, he said. After a life of discipline and attention to detail, Pitts and Walter Reed’s looser rules were his “sweet introduction to civilian life.”

The transition is proving difficult for many veterans, Barbato said. In a previous interview, he said the challenge for support organizations is to get information to veterans who need it and “to be connected to resources – who to contact, who the points of contact are.”

The next lecture will feature retired Colonel John Castles on January 15, 2022. It will also be held at the Dolan Performing Arts Center.