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President Trump awards posthumous Medal of Honor to Bozeman soldier

Posted at 4:40 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 20:31:10-04

President Donald Trump awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins of Bozeman Wednesday.

“Today, the name of Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins will be etched alongside of the names of America’s bravest warriors and written forever into America’s heart,” President Trump said.

On June 1, 2007, Staff Sergeant Atkins, while serving in Iraq, engaged a suspected insurgent in hand-to-hand combat. He realized the man was trying to detonate a bomb strapped to his body and then tackled the insurgent, using his body to shield other soldiers from the explosion.

The White House stated in a March 12th press release that “Staff Sergeant Atkins’ heroic actions, at the cost of his life, saved the lives of three of his teammates.”

Staff Sergeant Atkins first deployed to Iraq in 2003 and was later honorably discharged as a Sergeant. He attended the University of Montana, re-enlisted in the Army in 2005, and returned to Iraq in 2006, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant on May 1, 2007.

Atkins was born on Dec. 9, 1975, in Great Falls, Montana. He moved with his parents, Jack and Elaine, to Bozeman, Montana, in 1981.

Staff Sergeant Atkins is survived by his son, Trevor Oliver, of Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and his parents, John and Elaine Atkins of Bozeman.

Click here to read the full transcript of President Trump’s presentation.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday will present a posthumous medal of honor to Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins of Bozeman, who heroically lost his life tackling a suicide bomber in Iraq nearly 12 years ago.

The Montana born-and-raised Atkins enlisted in the Army in November 2000, serving in Kuwait and Iraq before he was honorably discharged in December 2003. But he didn’t stay stateside for long.

“The civilian life just didn’t do it for him,” his father, Jack Atkins, said in a video about his son’s service. “He had to get back in the Army.”

Atkins re-enlisted in December 2005 and was killed in action as a 10th Mountain Division squad leader in Abu Samak, Iraq, on June 1, 2007.

RELATED: Commissioners announce Travis W. Atkins week in Gallatin County to honor fallen soldier

During a routine route security check, Atkins and three of his fellow soldiers received a call about four suspicious-looking men.

“We fired up the truck, we sped down there,” then-Pfc. Sand Aijo, who was one of the three soldiers in Atkins’ Humvee that day, told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday.

“Travis exited the vehicle. He started giving verbal commands to the men. … I start to notice Travis begin hand-to-hand combat with this man. You could tell it was almost like wrestling when you hand fight and trying to get control of the man. All of a sudden I see Travis wrap the guy up and he lifted him up and he slams him the ground,” Aijo recalled.

Atkins realized the Iraqi man was wearing a suicide vest.

“Once they hit the ground, the way Travis began positioning his body, it just wasn’t — it seemed strange to me, he kind of began to position himself, while still, mind you, holding this guy down,” Aijo said, describing how Atkins pinned the man strategically away from him and the other soldiers.

“That’s when the detonation happened.”

Aijo explained that the vest was a grenade-detonated suicide vest, meaning Atkins would have seen and understood there would be a few-second delay before the explosion.

“He had a split second to make that decision and that was the decision he made — to sacrifice himself so that we could all live,” Aijo said.

The explosion killed Atkins instantly. He was 31 years old, the father of a young son.

His action saved the lives of his three fellow soldiers.

“I witnessed the heroics that ultimately saved my life and the lives of several others,” Aijo said, adding, “Travis was an amazing soldier. He was an amazing brother to us. He loved his country, but even more so, I got to know the man — I’m proud to be a part of this and to get to celebrate Travis today. I wouldn’t be here without him.”

Former Staff Sgt. Stuart Hollingsworth, who was Atkins’ platoon leader, recalled his leadership.

“He was a selfless leader. Travis was an authoritative leader. He led by example and knowledge, not through fear or title or rank,” Hollingsworth said Tuesday at the Pentagon.

Atkins received a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, but after a review beginning in 2016, the Department of Defense upgraded the honor to the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration.

The President will present the Medal of Honor to Atkins’ son, Trevor Oliver, in the East Room of the White House Wednesday afternoon. Trump spoke to Oliver by phone to inform him that Atkins would be awarded the Medal of Honor. Atkins’ parents, Jack and Elaine Atkins, will also attend the ceremony, as well as many of Atkins’ fellow service members.

“Yes, my dad’s gone and that’s hard,” Oliver said. “But what he did is so extreme and that just moves me even more. He was my icon … He was a great soldier and a great father.”

In addition to the honors, US Senator Steve Daines will be introducing legislation Wednesday in the U.S. Senate naming the Veterans Clinic in Bozeman after Sergeant Atkins.

“It will be a privilege to stand with Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins’ mom, dad, and son while President Trump awards Travis our nation’s highest distinction – the Medal of Honor,” Daines said. “A Montana native, Travis’ extraordinary valor and sacrificial service are a defining moment in our state’s great history. Every effort should be made to preserve his legacy. That is why I’m also introducing legislation to rename the VA Clinic in Travis’ hometown of Bozeman in his honor.”