Hero. It's a word that many say is thrown around so much that its true meaning can be lost. But Wednesday at Fort Drum, a man who gave his life to save three others was honored. As our Brian Dwyer reports, his fellow soldiers say hero is the only way to describe him.
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- "I'd like to thank you so very much for your inspiration and sacrifice," Sgt. Aaron Hall said. "You are gone, but certainly not forgotten. You're a comrade in arms and a brother in life."
On June 1st, 2007, Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins began searching a group of insurgents. He soon realizes one is trying to set off a bomb he had in his vest. Atkins, knowing it was too late to stop him, pins him to the ground. The 31-year-old is killed in the blast, but sacrificed himself by becoming a shield and saved the lives of three of his soldiers.
"Without question, doing something courageous," SSG Joel Irby said of Atkins' quick actions. "If you can think about it, it's one thing. If you do it in a split second and not even think about it. It's courageous."
"And it's not like the guy didn't have anything to lose," Captain Owen Durham added. "He clearly has a very supportive family and a son who loves him very much."
A family that was on Fort Drum Wednesday to help dedicate the new Functional Fitness Facility. It'll now forever be known as the Atkins Functional Fitness Facility.
"We want to thank you for this honor that you have bestowed upon our son and our family," Travis' father Jack said. "We are immensely proud."
Functional fitness is all about training the soldier's mind and body to be battle ready. Those who knew Travis Atkins or have even just heard his story say if Atkins doesn't do just that, nothing will.
"If I'm sweating, I'm sweating for him," SSG Gabriel Saniles said of what will be the numerous times he uses the facility for workouts. "If I'm sweating, it's going to be for a good reason. There's going to be a lot of pain, but also a joy at the same time. When you walk out those doors, you're going to be putting everything into it and leaving with everything you've got."
And as his brigade and his battalion gets ready to for another deployment in just a few days, it's a legacy that those he touched can carry on.
"He clearly represented his unit well. He represented his family well," Captain Durham said. "He made us all proud."
Durham saying that's all any of his soldiers can hope to accomplish.
Staff Sergeant Atkins was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. It's the second highest award that can be given to a soldier. He was 31-years-old.