A Medal of Honor recipient will be in Fairbanks this week to talk to soldiers and airmen about behavioral health care.
Master Sgt. Leroy Petry is a retired Army Ranger who received the military’s highest honor for grabbing a grenade thrown near him and saving the life of fellow soldiers during a 2008 attack on a Taliban compound in Afghanistan’s Paktia province. Petry is one of 72 living Medal of Honor recipients.
Petry will speak at Fort Wainwright today. On Thursday, he will attend a wreath laying ceremony at Veteran’s Memorial Park on Cushman Street and will speak at Eielson Air Force Base.
Petry lost his right hand to the grenade blast. After recovery from his injuries and being fitted with a prosthetic hand, he re-enlisted in the Army and served in the U.S. Special Operations Command Warrior Care Program, which helps other wounded soldiers.
Now retired from the Army, Petry is an ambassador for a private Washington behavioral hospital with a program that specializes in treatment of veterans and active duty service members. He frequently travels to speak about the importance of mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment. He does it because of the 33 American active duty service members or veterans who die by suicide every day on average and because there is stigma about talking about these subjects in the military, Petry said in an interview Tuesday.
“For a lot of people they have no hope, (they think) no one is going to help them out,” he said. “Plus the stigma of, ‘Oh, if I go get mental health I’ll never be able to own a gun or I’ll never be able to continue my job, they’ll kick me out or I’ll never get promoted.’
“A lot of what I talk to them about is that to be a well-rounded soldier you’ve got to be mentally, physically and spiritually green. When you started going into the yellow or the red you’re not going to be at your peak performance.”
Petry’s visit to Fairbanks is sponsored by the Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital north of Seattle, which started a 16-bed in-patient treatment program for mental health and substance abuse in February. Petry is an ambassador for the program, which is called Extra Mile Military Care. It meets Department of Defense and Veterans Administration standards and accepts Veterans Choice and TRICARE insurance.
Petry is here in Fairbanks with Greg Walker, a former Fairbanksans who, like Petry, is a former Army Ranger. The two met when they both served as coordinators in the Warrior Care Program. They’d talked in the past about finding a good quality behavioral health program to support and found it when Smokey Point created the Extra Mile program and recruited Walker to be military liaison. Extra Mile is one of about 20 private behavioral health treatment programs specialized for the military in the country, Walker said.
“It’s what we call a gold standard program,” Walker said. “It’s a beautiful facility very close to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and (the airport) so you can fly in from Alaska, you can fly in from Hawaii, you can fly in from Japan. It just had everything going for it.”
During his speaking engagements, Petry usually talks for about 30 minutes about his own experiences and about behavioral healthcare options in the military (including options outside the Smokey Point hospital) he then usually answers questions and mingles with people in the audience, Walker said.
Petry will speak at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. today at the Northern Lights Chapel on Fort Wainwright. He’ll also be at the Eielson Air Force Base theater at 10 a.m. on Thursday.