No matter the quality of one’s military training, nor the habits that are built up, no one really knows how they will react when the first bullets start flying.
All the preparation is powerfully important, but when the fecal matter hits the oscillating blade, the basic, primitive brain instincts of self-survival, fight or flight come immediately to the fore. But the higher human instincts are there too, the instincts of love for your friends, the desire to protect and defend each other’s lives. Both of these instincts are in all warriors, some just take those higher instincts to another level.
SSgt Travis W. Atkins was one of those who, in the most immediate and life-threatening heat of the moment, chose to sacrifice his own life in order to save his squad when they were attacked by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2007.
Atkins was a squad leader in the 10th Mountain Division on the day that he and his men came in contact with a suicide bomber. The man had already come close enough to do real harm. It was clear to all the men that the man approaching them had more than himself underneath the clothes he was wearing.
Without hesitation, Atkins, realizing this man’s intentions, rushed the suicide bomber and took him down and jumped on top of him before he could explode his suicide vest. In doing so, he saved his squad from most of the lethal effects of the bombers explosives. He gave his life, unhesitatingly for his men.
Such behavior in the face of immanent death, humbles us. It is more than basic courage; that is in all warriors. This kind of courage is, as is always said, “above and beyond the call of duty.”
Such self-sacrificing love for others that SSgt Atkins displayed that day is a shelf above most of us, and though we would all like to think that we are made of that kind of material, we sure as hell don’t want to be tested. SSgt. Atkins was tested that day, and he proved himself to be one who possessed that quality of heroic character.
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SSgt Travis W. Atkins was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously at the White House on March 27 of this year, twelve years after the event. You will hear how his commanding officer and the men of his squad remember him in this video.
The Veterans Site honors the heroism and self-sacrifice of SSgt. Travis W. Atkins. It is true, there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for the sake of others. We will not forget.
Rest in Peace, good soldier.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.