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Trump to award posthumous Medal of Honor to Army staff sergeant

Soldiers kneel to pay their respects to Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, who was killed June 1, 2007 by a suicide bomber near Sadr Al-Yusufiyah, Iraq, at a memorial ceremony held June 7 at Camp Striker. Atkins was on a patrol with his unit, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) from Fort Drum, N.Y., when they detained men who were wearing suicide vests. (Spc. Chris McCann, 2nd BCT PAO/U.S. Army)

An Army staff sergeant who saved the lives of three other soldiers in Iraq by diving onto a suicide bomber will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Tuesday.

Family members of Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, a 10th Mountain Division squad leader, are scheduled to join President Donald Trump for the service slated for March 27 to commemorate Atkins’ selfless service and sacrifice, the White House said.

Atkins, a Bozeman, Montana native, was killed in action on June 1, 2007, while his unit — Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team 0151 conducted route clearance southwest of Baghdad, according to an Army account of the incident.

During the mission, Atkins, 31, heard a report over the radio of suspected insurgents crossing an intersection in the Iraqi town of Abu Samak, the Army said.

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As truck commander in his Humvee, Atkins ordered the driver to stop the vehicle at the intersection so they could intercept the suspected insurgents, according to the Army. Atkins approached one of the men to check him for weapons, but when Atkins attempted to search him, the man resisted. As the two men fought, the insurgent reached for an explosive vest under his clothing. Atkins grabbed the suicide bomber from behind with a bear hug and slammed him to the ground, away from the other soldiers standing only a few feet from the fight. As he pinned the insurgent to the ground, the bomb detonated.

Atkins was killed by the blast.

“When he noticed the insurgent was about to trigger the suicide vest, Staff Sergeant Atkins tackled him, selflessly using his own body to shield his fellow soldiers from the imminent explosion,” the White House said in its release. “Staff Sergeant Atkins’ heroic actions, at the cost of his life, saved the lives of three of his teammates.”

For his actions, Atkins was initially given the Army’s second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross, which will be upgraded now to a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.

Before Atkins joined the Army, he worked for concrete and painting contractors and as an engine mechanic in Montana, according to the service. He enlisted in the Army in 2000 and attended basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia. He was assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky., the White House said.

He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and later honorably discharged as a sergeant.

Atkins went on to study at the University of Montana before re-enlisting in the Army in 2005. He was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and deployed to Iraq a second time in August 2006. In May 2007, he was promoted to staff sergeant.

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The 10th Mountain Division, which is based at Fort Drum in New York, honored Atkins by naming a fitness center at the installation after him in 2013, the Army said.

During the dedication ceremony, then-Sgt. Aaron Hall, a friend of Atkins, described the staff sergeant as a “quiet professional” who always had the respect of others.

“When my 4-year-old son Travis tells me his favorite superhero is Captain America and asks me who my favorite superhero is, my reply always has and will be Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins,” Hall said.

Atkins’ Army awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Valorous Unit Award with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Air Assault Badge.

Atkins was buried June 12, 2007, in his hometown of Bozeman in south-central Montana, according to the Army. He is survived by his son, Trevor Oliver of Coon Rapids, Minn., and his parents, John and Elaine Atkins of Bozeman, Montana, the White House said.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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