Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator of the Navy SEAL Edward Byers was relatively anonymous until Feb. 29, when he received the Medal of Honor for exceptional valor in combat.
President Barack Obama joked that Byers would probably prefer to be out of the spotlight, but that Byers deserved the honor for taking out Taliban guards and using himself as a human shield during an operation to rescue American Dr. Dilip Joseph from the Taliban in Afghanistan in December 2012.
One of Byers' teammates in the operation, Chief Petty Officer Nicolas Checque was shot during the operation and Byers tried to resuscitate him for 40 minutes, although he ultimately died, CNN reported. At the same ceremony, Checque was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross.
"Today, we don't simply honor a single individual," Obama said. "We also pay tribute to a community across our entire military. Special operators, aviators, engineers, technicians, analysts, countless enablers and their devoted families.”
Byers was humble when he addressed the crowd after receiving the award, crediting Checque and the rest of his team.
"If it wasn't for that team, I wouldn't be standing here today," Byers said. "Specifically for me, my teammate, brother, friend, Nic Checque, the award is truly his. He was an American hero. He was the hero of that operation. He was killed during that operation. He died a warrior. He died to bring back another American.”
He added: “I believe our nation owes him a debt of gratitude. He lived his life as a warrior, and he carried out the toughest missions selflessly and fearlessly. He made the ultimate sacrifice that day.”
Byers was already a decorated soldier. Obama said in his speech that Byers would be “ long remembered for his compassion, his sacrifice and his endurance: 11 overseas deployments, nine combat tours, recipient of the Purple Heart twice, Bronze Star with valor five times.”
Byers told the Navy Times that he enjoyed the anonymity of being an operator, and that he’s eager to get back to work, despite being just the sixth Navy SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor.
"I'm not sure how this will change my life," he said. "I just plan on taking it one step at a time. I'm going to continue doing my job in the Navy, continue being a SEAL and continue doing the thing I love. It's truly the best job in the world.”
Joseph made it out of the operation alive and told CNN he was delighted Byers was awarded the Medal of Honor, saying Byers gave him “a second chance in life.”