5:17 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Chaplain. I appreciate that. Please, sit down.
Well, this afternoon, it’s my privilege to present our nation’s highest and most revered military distinction. It’s called the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” There’s nothing like it. Please join me in welcoming today’s extraordinary recipient, Master Sergeant Matthew Williams. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
We are delighted to have with us the Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper. Thank you, Mark. And great job to you and to everybody and General Milley for the incredible act you performed seven days ago with al-Baghdadi. He — he was hit hard, the way he should’ve been. And I just want to say, for all of our military: We’re very proud of you. That was something very special. The whole world is proud of you, frankly. So thank you very much. Thank you, Mark. Great job. (Applause.)
Also with us is Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Byrne — thank you — thank you, Jim; Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy — thank you; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley — thank you, General — great job, incredible job; Army Chief of Staff James McConville; and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston. Thank you very much. Thank you very much for being here.
Also thank you to some very special warriors — in a little different kind of war, maybe, but they are warriors: Senators John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, and Thom Tillis. Thank you very much, fellas. Thank you. (Applause.) Along with Representative Richard Hudson for being here. We have a few other great politicians here, but we won’t bother because we want to get on with this one. This is a very special thing. It’s such a great honor.
Joining Matt for this special ceremony is his wife Kate, his father Michael, his mother Janet, brother Cody, and his sister Amy. Please stand up. Please. Thank you. Great family. (Applause.) Each of you has strengthened our nation through your steadfast love and support. And we want to just thank you. You’re a very, very special family.
We’re also honored to be in the presence of eight previous Congressional Medal of Honor winners — recipients are here. And I thought maybe we should — what do you think? — we should introduce them. I think so, right? Huh? Come on, let’s do that.
William Swenson. William, thank you very much, William. (Applause.)
Ronald Shurer. Thank you. Thank you, Ronald. Thank you. (Applause.)
Walter Marm. Hi, Walter. (Applause.)
Robert Foley. Thank you, Robert. Thank you, Robert. (Applause.)
Brian Thacker. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Florent Groberg. Thank you. Thank you, Florent. (Applause.)
David Bellavia. David. (Applause.) I heard you, maybe, are going to be running for office — but someday, I know, huh? I’ll tell you. Boy, I’ll tell you what: He has my vote. (Laughter.) You have a brave politician for a change, right? That’s great. Nice to see you, David. Thank you very much.
And Salvatore Giunta. Thank you, Salvatore. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you.
Matt Williams grew up in the small town of Boerne, Texas — a very small town. He met Kate for the first time in elementary school. In college, he planned to pursue a career in law enforcement. But after 9/11, Matt decided his place was on the frontlines of the war on terror. He wanted to be the best of the best; he worked so hard at it. So, after graduation, he enlisted in the Army to become a Green Beret.
Matt finished his Special Forces training in August 2007 and deployed to Afghanistan by October. On April 6th, 2008, he joined dozens of American Special Forces and Afghan commandos on a mission to take down a terrorist leader in a remote mountain village. It sounded simple — not simple.
On that cold spring morning, the soldiers arrived in helicopters and jumped 10 feet from their Chinooks into the rocky and freezing terrain of Shok Valley.
When the first Americans reached the edge of the valley, at the base of a 100-foot mountain, a handful of Special Forces scouted ahead. The lead group was 60 feet up the slope when roughly 200 insurgents savagely attacked. And it was a big surprise — a very unwelcome surprise, I might add.
The terrorists filled the valley with a hail of bullets and explosions. Matt soon received word that the soldiers on the mountain were pinned down and suffering from mounting casualties. He organized the Afghan infantry under his command and he led a bold counterassault to stop the enemy advance.
As machinegun fire rained down from above, Matt and his fellow American soldiers, Scott Ford and Ronald Shurer, charged up the mountain. Once they reached their trapped comrades, Matt realized that several of them were too gravely wounded to be quickly evacuated. He ran down the mountain to get support and then climbed back up with bullets spraying all around. Not a good place to be.
Again and again, Matt exchanged fire with the enemy and rescued his fellow soldiers. He guided his injured team sergeant, Scott Ford, down the mountain to safety. When Matt noticed two combatants moving toward a group of the badly wounded, he immediately engaged the enemy fighters and killed them both.
But Matt was not done yet. In order to rejoin the battle on the mountain, he and Sergeant Seth Howard scaled a sheer cliff completely exposed to attack. Matt quickly reengaged the adversary and shielded the injured from falling rubble as American warplanes bombed insurgent positions above and rocked the mountain from top to bottom. He then helped evacuate the wounded down a very, very steep cliff.
As the terrorists continued to try to overrun their position, Matt raced back into battle. He fought for several more hours, valiantly protecting the wounded and putting his own life in great peril to save his comrades.
Matt’s incredible heroism helped ensure that not a single American soldier died in the Battle of Shok Valley. His ground commander later wrote: “I’ve never seen a troop so poised, focused, and capable during a… fight.” And Matt is without question and without reservation, “one of the bravest soldiers” and people “I have ever met.”
But Matt wants all Americans to know that he was not alone in his heroism that day. Joining us this afternoon are other heroes of Shok Valley. Please rise when I read your name: Lieutenant Colonel Kyle Walton. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Master Sergeant Scott Ford. Thank you, Scott. (Applause.) And Luis Morales. Thank you very much. Thank you, Luis. (Applause.) Karl Wurzbach. Where is Karl? Thank you, Karl. (Applause.) Thank you. Sergeants First Class Seth Howard, Dave Sanders, John Walding, Dillon Behr, and Ryan Wallen. Thank you, fellas. (Applause.) Thank you, fellas.
And very importantly, as you know better than anyone, Afghan translators Bahroz Mohmand and Zia Ghafoori. (Applause.) How was that? Okay? Not bad? Good. He said it was okay. He said it was okay. Thank you both very much. Fantastic job. Fantastic job. Thank you.
I assume you all agree with this choice, right? Okay? Your last chance, eh? They all agree. Thank you very much. I agree, too. We all do.
Staff Sergeant Ronald Shurer was with us and privileged to be here. And we had a, not so long ago — a great ceremony with the Medal of Honor and that was really amazing that you both here are together.
To each and every one of you, I want to thank you and I want to thank the fearless defense and what you’ve done for our country. It’s incredible. Your valor, your bravery, your strength, your heart, your soul — it’s incredible. Incredible what you’ve done.
The Battle of Shok Valley is a testament to the overwhelming strength, lethal skill, and unstoppable might of the United States Army Special Forces and all of our military.
The enemy that really held a high ground, superior numbers, and an element of surprise — they had it all going; everything they’re not supposed to have, they had. But they had one major disadvantage: They were facing the toughest, strongest, and best-trained soldiers anywhere in the world. We showed that a few days ago. And these guys didn’t know what the hell hit them. (Laughter.) No adversary on Earth stands a chance against the American Green Berets.
A few years after that first perilous deployment, Matt married Kate. Did you make a good decision, Kate, in allowing this to happen, right? (Laughter.) Well, you definitely have a brave guy. I can’t speak for the rest. Okay? (Laughter.) He’s a brave guy and he’s a great guy, so good luck. That’s nice.
Today, they have a young son, Nolan, who will turn three next week. That’s beautiful. In the years to come, Nolan will learn that his father stands among the ranks of our nation’s greatest heroes.
For more than a decade, Matt has stared down our enemies, fought back the forces of terror, and exemplified the virtue and gallantry of the American warrior. He has completed five tours in Afghanistan, a deployment in Africa, and he continues to serve our country on active duty today. That’s something — to have Congressional Medal of Honor and be serving in active duty. It’s very rare.
Matt, we salute your unyielding service, your unbreakable resolve, and your untiring devotion to our great nation and the nation that we all love. Your spirit keeps our flag waving high, our families safe at home, and our hearts beating with American pride. On behalf of the entire nation — our great USA, our incredible United States of America — we are forever grateful for your life of service and your outstanding courage.
It’s now my privilege to present Master Sergeant Matthew Williams with the Congressional Medal of Honor. And I would like to ask the military aide to come forward and please read the citation. Thank you.
MILITARY AIDE: The President of the United States of America has awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Sergeant Matthew O. Williams, United States Army.
Sergeant Williams distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on April 6, 2008, while serving as a Weapons Sergeant, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 336 , Special Operations Task Force-33, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Sergeant Williams’s actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, Special Operations Command Central, and United States Army.
(The Medal of Honor is presented.) (Applause.)
5:33 P.M. EDT