By Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel
Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs
NORMAN, Okla. â€“ A Soldier with the Oklahoma Army National Guard was honored Sunday, Aug. 3 for his remarkable courage and heroic actions in the wake of the deadly tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma last year.
Sgt. E.H. Pittman, 30, of Norman, was presented with the Soldierâ€™s Medal for using his body as a shield while trying to protect others during the May 20, 2013 tornado.
The ceremony, held at the Armed Forces Reserve Center, was attended by Pittmanâ€™s wife, Jean, the coupleâ€™s daughter, Izzabele, 14, their son, Logan, 8, a host of Moore city officials and fellow Soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Pittman had recently returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan with the brigade and was working at the 7-Eleven at S.W. 4th Street and Telephone Road in Moore when the tornado tore through an area south of Oklahoma City.
Pittman and a co-worker rushed some customers into a bathroom as the tornado struck, demolishing the store and killing three people including a woman and her infant son.
Pittman suffered serious wounds, including a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He also suffered a gash that covered almost the entire width of his lower back and two cuts on his head that took 12 staples to close.
There was no escape for the tornado victims; eight adults and a baby.
Megan Futrell, 29, and her 4-month-old son, Case, did not survive. A third person, Terri Long, 49, also died at the 7-Eleven, where she took shelter on her way home from work.
Even as his life was being saved, he told rescuers how to locate the other victims.
Pittman was originally awarded the Oklahoma Star of Valor by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, the stateâ€™s adjutant general, but that award was later rescinded and upgraded to the Soldierâ€™s Medal.
In awarding the medal on Sunday, Deering referred to Pittman and others serving in the Oklahoma Army National Guard as â€śfull-spectrum Soldiersâ€ť in that â€śthey go above and beyond what traditional Soldiers do to defend and support our state,â€ť citing the response to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the May 3, 1999 and May 20, 2013 tornadoes as examples.
â€śThatâ€™s what makes us different and sets us apart,â€ť Deering said. â€śEven in the context of Sgt. Pittmanâ€™s civilian job, saving lives and protecting others is what we do, even in the face of adversity.â€ť
Deering went on to say, â€śI love you guys. Youâ€™re always a Soldier and always welcome to serve in our ranks. Thank you for what you do.â€ť
In being described in his citation as â€śa warrior and protector of people,â€ť Pittman said itâ€™s strange how life sometimes throws you a curveball. While in Afghanistan, he estimates he went on roughly 500 combat missions.
â€śI was shot at and walked away each time,â€ť Pittman said. â€śI didn't [walk away] from this. Itâ€™s kind of strange because in combat you feel safe because youâ€™re so focused on the mission. Then, you come home and this happens.
â€śYou get complacent, but once you hear those (tornado) sirens, your instincts kick in and you rely on your training to do what you have to do to survive,â€ť he added.
The Soldierâ€™s Medal, the seventh highest Army decoration, can be awarded to any person in the Armed Forces of the United States or Servicemembers from foreign nations, who work with members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The medal is awarded for heroic acts not involving direct contact with an enemy. It is not awarded on the sole basis of saving a life. The heroic act must involve a personal risk or hazard and the personal choice to confront that risk in order to aid others.
Pittmanâ€™s wife said that fateful night at the convenience store forever changed their familyâ€™s lives. She said her husband doesnâ€™t consider himself a hero, but she begs to differ.
Since 9/11, Pittman became the third person within the Oklahoma Army National Guard to receive the Soldierâ€™s Medal, which is the equivalent of the Silver Star and entitles him to certain VA benefits and other compensation.