Bozeman sergeant honored for heroism
By The Associated Press
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins of Bozeman was killed in Iraq in June 2007 when he tackled a suicide bomber and saved the lives of three other soldiers.
The Army posthumously honored the 10th Mountain Division soldier Friday with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest medal for heroism, outranked only by the Medal of Honor.
Atkins' parents and 12-year-old son were given the medal during a Veterans Day ceremony at Fort Drum in northern New York. Hundreds of soldiers and spectators attended the ceremony, which included a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps.
"We are very grateful for the recognition Travis has received," his mother, Elaine, said after the ceremony. "Travis was a great kid. We miss him very much." Atkins was the 18th soldier awarded the cross for actions since the 2001 terror attacks and the first from the 10th Mountain Division. The 31-year-old was a squad leader in D Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.
Atkins' unit was patrolling on June 1 in Abu Sarnak while helping search for two other 10th Mountain Division soldiers - Sgt. Alex Jimenez and Pvt. Byron Fouty - who were captured in an attack south of Baghdad in May 2007. The bodies of Fouty and Jimenez were not found until July of this year.
The unit encountered a group of suspected insurgents and was searching them when one resisted and began fighting hand to hand with Atkins, said Col. David Miller, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
During the fight, Atkins realized that the man was trying to trigger a suicide vest he was wearing under his clothing, Miller said.
Atkins tackled his attacker and pinned him to the ground, shielding three of his soldiers from the blast as the insurgent set off the bomb.
"Besides the Medal of Honor, there is no higher award that can be given to a service member so it speaks volumes of what Sgt. Atkins did. I can think of nothing more selfless than giving your life to protect the lives of your fellow soldiers," Miller said.
Atkins was serving his second tour in Iraq when he was killed. He was part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. After attending the University of Montana, he re-enlisted in the Army and was sent to Iraq in the summer of 2006.
Atkins had survived two roadside bombs before his death, his parents said. He received more than a dozen medals and awards during his military career.
Friday's ceremony was held under a blue, cloudless sky in a memorial park across the street from the post's headquarters.
"To Jack and Elaine Atkins, there are no words in the English language that we could share with you to ease the hurt and sorrow for the loss of your son," said Brig. Gen. Michael Harrison Sr. "But ... please accept our undying gratitude for raising and mentoring a wonderful young man who had the wisdom, the spirit and the selfless nature to see that in life there are things greater than self."
Harrison told Atkins' son that his father was a hero and "you should always be eternally proud of his service to our great country."
A presidential proclamation given to the family recognized Atkins' "undaunted courage, warrior spirit and steadfast devotion to duty."
Atkins is among 188 10th Mountain Division soldiers killed since 9/11, including members of the division's 4th Combat Brigade stationed at Fort Polk.