Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient, shared the story of his life-changing service in the military and emphasized the importance of a support system at “A Wounded Warrior’s Experience and Physical Rehabilitation,” an event sponsored by the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families along with the Division of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center on Wednesday.
Four years ago, Petry was deployed to Afghanistan, where he lost his right hand when he tossed away a grenade that was near him and two fellow soldiers. President Barack Obama presented him with the Medal of Honor in July 2011, but Petry said he feels others deserve the award.
“I look at those guys as my brothers and children,” Petry said. “To see one action regarded so highly seems unfair. It belongs to every service member, especially those that have given the ultimate sacrifice.”
Petry has an advanced prosthetic hand capable of detecting outside resistance and that responds to his muscle contractions and skin receptors. Petry can pinch, grab and rotate his wrist.
He said he was happy his experience could inspire others.
“Injuries like mine used to be a free ticket out [of the army], but I take it as a golden opportunity,” Petry said.
Petry decided to re-enlist as a liaison officer for the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition to help the wounded and be part of unit’s support system.
“To see their resilience as they get past the milestones of losing limbs lifts my heart,” Petry said. “I always advise soldiers to use their peers because they play a tremendous role in the rehabilitation process because they push them to continue to improve.”
USC intends to honor veteran students with several events throughout November, which includes a panel for those transitioning from the military to college, said Karen McNulty, an occupational therapist and assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy.
McNulty said it is important to make sure veterans feel welcome and comfortable at USC.
“Veterans feel like they’re part of a different culture because they have had different life experiences that might cause them to feel separated and unwelcome,” McNulty said. “We have to establish trust with them so they can reach out and feel like they are supported.”
This year, USC Student Affairs also added Transfer and Veteran Student Programs, which helps veteran students transition into campus life.
Florence Clark, professor, associate dean and division chair of occupational science and occupational therapy, said Petry demonstrated selflessness that students should know about and experience.
“Students need to get a sense of what soldiers go through and treat them with the utmost respect at all times,” Clark said. “If they get to know them they will know what truly matters most in life.”