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Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts Awarded Medal of Honor for Valor in Afghanistan

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts is the sole survivor of an outpost that came under fierce attack in one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan. On Monday, the former paratrooper became the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"In Ryan Pitts you see the humility and the loyalty that define America's men and women in uniform," President Obama said at a White House ceremony.

Pitts insists that the honor is not his alone. It's a distinction he shares with the men he fought alongside that fateful day in the summer of 2008. Nine died and 27 were wounded, including Pitts, in the battle of Wanat, one of the fiercest of the entire war.

"Valor was everywhere that day and the real heroes are the nine men who made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us could return home,"  Pitts told reporters Monday. "It is their names, not mine, that I want people to know."

It was before dawn when hundreds of Taliban fighters launched their attack, far outnumbering the United States troops defending their partially completed base outside the village of Wanat in northeastern Afghanistan.

For nearly two hours, Pitts, who was 22 years old at the time, helped fend off the enemy fighters from his isolated observation post. After suffering severe shrapnel wounds and being patched up by a fellow soldier who was later killed, Pitts crawled from position to position, lobbing grenades and firing at the enemy, resigning himself to certain death, the president said.

"As the insurgents moved in, Ryan picked up a grenade, pulled the pin, and held that live grenade -- for a moment, then another, then another -- finally hurling it so they couldn't throw it back. And he did that again. And he did it again," the president explained.

"Unable to stand, Ryan pulled himself up on his knees and manned a machine gun. Soldiers from the base below made a daring run, dodging bullets and explosions, and joined the defense. But now the enemy was inside the post -- so close they were throwing rocks at the Americans, so close they came right up to the sandbags. Eight American soldiers had now fallen. And Ryan Pitts was the only living soldier at that post," Obama said.

The enemy got so close that Pitts could hear their voices. "He whispered into the radio he was the only one left and was running out of ammo," Obama said.

The battle later spurred an investigation and, as the president noted, a report concluded Wanat had "significant vulnerabilities." As Commander-in-Chief, the president said one way to honor the fallen is, "by heeding the lessons of Wanat."

"When this nation sends our troops into harm's way, they deserve a sound strategy and a well-defined mission. And they deserve the forces and support to get the job done," he said. "That's how we can truly honor all those who gave their lives that day. … They're hard lessons, but they're ones that are deeply engrained in our hearts."

Pitts now lives in Nashua, N.H., where he works in business development for a software company. He is married and has a 1-year-old son, Lucas. Monday is also his second wedding anniversary.

"As Ryan put it, it's going to be tough topping this one, as anniversaries go," the president joked. "But let me just give you a piece of advice as somebody who now has been married for over 20 years: You should try."

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Gun Control Takes Center Stage on Chris Christie Conn. Trip

Governor's Office/Tim Larsen(GREENWICH, Conn.) -- When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie traveled to Connecticut to campaign with Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, the issue of gun control dominated the evening.

Outside one of the fundraisers Christie attended, he was greeted by about 170 protesters angry at his decision in July to veto legislation that would have banned magazines with more than ten rounds of ammunition. In this state still reeling from the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, protesters from Newtown, Connecticut held signs that said "Not One More" and "Be a Gun Sense Voter."

At a diner he stopped at with Foley earlier he was asked by a voter from Newtown how he would limit gun violence in the nation without limiting access to high-capacity magazines, and Christie answered that he believes there is, "no evidence that high capacity magazines does anything to limit violence."

"If you really want to limit mass violence in the country, you need to get at the mental health system in this country, which doesn't deal with these folks," Christie told the man named Richard Boritz. "Every one of these instances of mass killings, we had people with significant mental health issues. And that needs to be dealt with. It's not the sexy part of it. It's not the stuff that gets you big headlines when you are a politician. It's the stuff that actually gets the job done. So I think we should stop doing the headline-grabbing stuff and start doing the actual work that makes a difference."

Boritz attempted to continue the conversation, but Christie said he is "not engaged in a debate." "You asked a question," Christie told him. "That's my answer. I am not going to debate you. If you run against me someday I will debate you all you like."

Newtown families attempted to meet with Christie the day he vetoed the legislation and they have accused him of refusing to meet with them. On Monday, Christie told reporters that he met with the families a year ago, but he, "didn't feel like it was necessary to meet with them again, especially after I had made the decision."

"The fact is we have an honest disagreement," Christie told reporters at the diner. "Now people on issues across this country can disagree, we disagree. I made the decision that I felt was best, they disagreed, that is certainly their prerogative to do so and to express themselves."

He added that he has "nothing but sympathy" for the families, but he doesn't believe the bill in New Jersey, which passed the Democratic controlled state legislature, was an, "effective way to deal with it so I vetoed it; it's a difference of opinion, but it's nothing personal."

Foley chose not to reveal if he agreed with Christie's veto.

Christie was also asked if he thought he could be a viable 2016 presidential candidate if he did not veto the bill and he answered, "I don't make decisions on what bills to sign or veto based upon someone's perception of viability."

The protesters gathered at the bottom of a private road leading to the home of the fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association, where Christie serves as chairman. Katherine Morosky of Newtown, accompanied by her 7-year-old daughter Marie, held a politically-charged sign that read, "Stop Playing Politics, Children's Lives are Not Trivial, Fewer Bullets Save Lives."

It was a reference to what Christie said in his veto message, writing he could, "not support such a trivial approach to the sanctity of human life."

Marie was not a student at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, but her mother claimed she was friends with five of the children killed, as well as some of the surviving children who were able to escape when Adam Lanza reloaded. Morosky said she was "extremely offended" by Christie's veto, adding mental health is an issue, but there is still "easy access" for those with mental illness to ammunition making it possible to "kill 25 people in five minutes."

"It's such easy access to those weapons used for war and you can take out a lot more people out that way," Morosky said of the higher-capacity magazines. "It makes a very big difference."

Sandy Hook resident Cindy Carlson held a sign that read, "My Kids are Not Trivial," and said those moments when a murderer reloads is crucial. "The difference is when a person with bad intentions must stop and reload it gives potential victims time to escape," she said.

Christie and Foley appeared at the Glory Days Diner, appropriate for the devoted Bruce Springsteen fan. He was greeted there by a supportive crowd, with one woman shouting at the possible 2016 presidential candidate, "Hey good looking!" Another woman told him she once received a kiss from President George W. Bush so she needed one from him. He obliged saying to the cameras surrounding him, "You gotta do what you gotta do" with a smile.  

Foley ran previously in 2010 losing to current Gov. Dannel Malloy by just over 6,000 votes. One of the fundraisers Monday night was for the RGA and the other was to raise money for the Connecticut GOP, that one was held at the home of former hedge fund manager Brian Olson.

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Will National Guard Help Stop Illegal Immigrant Influx in Texas?

Office of the Governor Rick Perry(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry calls it "Operation Strong Safety," but critics say it's closer to "operation symbolic act."

Perry announced Monday that 1,000 National Guard troops would be deployed over the next month to the southern border. But by law, they can't make arrests and instead will act only as a "visual deterrent."

"What we're asking the National Guard to do is to be a force multiplier, to be there as a partner with the law enforcement," Perry said Monday at a news conference. "Which they have done multiple times before."

In 2006 and 2010, presidents Bush and then Obama ordered the National Guard in to assist border patrol. In 2006, operation Jump Start brought 6,000 National Guard to work mainly in non-law enforcement duties, relieving the Border Patrol agents in those positions to move into border security rules.

But because the governor, and not the president, has ordered this deployment, the troops are unable to move into U.S. Customs and Border Protection jurisdiction without a coordinated effort with the federal government.

The Texas general in charge confirmed his troops cannot physically detain or send any of the thousands of surging immigrants, many of them mothers and children, back across the border.

"We are planning on referring and deterring -- so deterring with a visible presence," Major General Nichols, Adjutant General of Texas National Guard, said at the news conference.

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And the troops cannot use their weapons to stop illegal immigration.

"You are not allowed to fire on someone who is fleeing away," Thad Bingel, former Chief of Staff for U.S. Customs and Border Protection under President Bush told ABC News Monday. "They can use their weapons in self-defense only if they are threatened by physical harm."

Ralph Basham, CBP commissioner under Bush (2006-2009), agreed, telling ABC News that they weapons they carry "are strictly for self-defense," and the National Guard is, "limited in terms of what they could do."

"They could best be used to go down and literally set up tents and medical facilities and housing and food services. And things that the border patrol are being asked to do today," Basham said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest characterized the governor's action Monday as a publicity stunt.

"What we're hopeful is that Gov. Perry will not just take these kinds of steps that are generating the kind of headlines I suspect he intended, but will actually take the kinds of steps that will be constructive to solving the problem over the long term," Earnest said.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified in June that he'd want to, "understand better what the options are for the use of the Guard," and cited concerns about their limitations.

The National Guard, "can't be directly involved in law enforcement," he said. "And Department of Defense has a lot to say about this as well. It's their resource, comes out of their budget. Lot of demands on the Guard, particularly in this season, hurricane season."

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (updated in 1981) works to limit the federal government's use of the military to enforce state laws and, as such, bars it from performing tasks of civilian law enforcement such as arrests or apprehensions.

That could be why the head of the Border Patrol made it clear in a June interview with ABC News that the Guard isn't needed.

"I don't see the National Guard being particularly good help in this instance," said CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske. "Many of these people are not people that we're having to apprehend or chase, these are people that are turning themselves in asking for some type of status here in the United States."

Perry maintains that the use of the Guard will serves as, "a deterrent effect on criminal and illegal activity along the border," at a cost of $12 million per month -- a figure he plans to ask the federal government to reimburse.

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Close Encounters with Vladimir Putin: What Joe Biden and George W. Bush Saw

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- When Vice President Joe Biden and former President George W. Bush both looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyes, they each saw very different things.

Biden recently told The New Yorker's Evan Osnos of a 2011 meeting with Putin. The vice president got close to the Russian leader — so close, in fact, that the two nearly touched noses. Here's what happened:

To illustrate his emphasis on personality as a factor in foreign affairs, Biden recalled visiting Putin at the Kremlin in 2011: "I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, 'It's amazing what capitalism will do, won't it? A magnificent office!' And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him." Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. "I said, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul.'"

"You said that?" I asked. It sounded like a movie line.

"Absolutely, positively," Biden said, and continued, "And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, 'We understand one another.'" Biden sat back, and said, "This is who this guy is!"

Although Biden looked at Putin and saw no soul, more than a decade earlier then-President George W. Bush saw something very different when he came eye-to-eye the Russian leader:

"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue," Bush said according a BBC account. "I was able to get a sense of his soul. He's a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that’s the beginning of a very constructive relationship."

Putin is now coming under increasing pressure from world leaders in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week.

On Monday, President Obama ratcheted up his rhetoric: "Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia, and President Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation," President Obama said.

And over the weekend Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, was even more blunt: "I would say, Putin, you have to man up. You should talk to the world. You should say this was a mistake, if it was a mistake," she said in an interview with CNN.

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Obama Reveals His Top Five Secrets to Success

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Speaking at an event Monday promoting My Brother's Keeper, an initiative designed to help at-risk youth navigate tough school districts, President Obama reflected on the principles that got him all the way to the White House.

The president, who has remarked that he sees himself reflected in struggling young men of color just like the ones who crowded into D.C. Walker Jones Educate Campus to hear him speak, said he hopes the My Brother's Keeper Mentor program can keep boys from slipping through the cracks.

Here are Obama's top five tips for success:

1. Find Out What Makes You Tick

"Figure out what it is that you care about passionately, something that you think is important to you, because if nothing's important to you, you're not going to put in the work," the president told the kids.

"Everybody's got different talents and everybody's got different passions, and some — part of the goal of My Brother's Keeper is to expose you to more things so that you don't think that the only thing you can be passionate about is what you're seeing on TV," the president said.

"Part of the problem with young men of color is oftentimes the only thing they see to be passionate about is basketball or rap," he added. "We want to make sure you get exposed to graphic design or you're exposed to engineering or you're exposed to being a lawyer, so that maybe you will be passionate about that."

2. Practice Makes Perfect

"Work — it's a pretty simple concept," Obama said. "There is nothing worthwhile where it just falls in your lap."

Explaining that just as basketball players must build muscle in order to nail the shot, academics must hone their craft. But the metaphor, the president noted, often gets lost in translation.

"It's interesting, you talk to the young people about basketball, and they kind of understand that [practice is necessary]," the president said.

"But for some reason, you think the same doesn't apply to school. There is no reason why you should think that you will be a good reader if you don’t read a lot, and read books that are hard, as opposed to just books that are easy. There's no reason to think that you will be good at mathematics if you are not doing math problems and pushing yourself and trying math problems that are hard, not just ones that are easy," Obama said, drawing applause from the crowd.

3. There Is No 'I' in Team

"Understand that you will not achieve by yourself, which means that you've got to be able to invest in relationships with other people who you can learn from, who will support you, who you will support in turn," said Obama, who said he plans to take on a mentee through the My Brother's Keeper program.

"You have to expand your network of people who can support you, give you ideas, buck you up when you’re down," he continued. "Of course, the flip side is, though, you can't just take. You also got to give. So you've got to show enthusiasm. You've got to want to be involved. You've got to be curious."

4. No Slacking

"I don't care how bad your school is. There's a teacher in there somewhere who, if you went up to her or him and said, 'I really want to learn. Can you help me?' that teacher would snatch you up in a second, because they want to feel like they're doing a good job," the president said.

"But if you're just sitting in the back of the class slouching and complaining about how bad the school is, well, then, you know — you may be right to be angry that you don't have enough school supplies or the building's bad or what have you — but it's not going to help you," he said.

5. Haters Gonna Hate, but That’s Okay

"When you're young, it is natural to care a lot about what your peers think of you. That's, that's just human. And there's nothing wrong with that," said Obama, who is currently grappling with some of the lowest approval numbers of his presidency.

"At some point, to be a man or a woman, to be an adult, to be a full-grown person, you have to move beyond just what other people think and you have to make a determination about what do you believe in," he said.

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Senate to Probe Flaws with Black Lung Program

Miner Gary Fox is pictured. (Courtesy Fox family)(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers have called a hearing to address concerns that for years a federal labor program may have unfairly denied benefits for coal miners who suffer from black lung disease.

“The current system of black lung claims has proven to be rife with problems, leading to undue denials and lengthy delays in miners’ pursuit of justice,” said Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., who is part of an effort in Congress to reform the program.

Casey said he called the Senate committee hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, to “begin to look at the root causes of these issues and begin to outline possible legislative solutions.”

Flaws with the federal black lung program were highlighted last fall in a year-long ABC News investigation with the Center for Public Integrity, and already, the U.S. Department of Labor has pledged to take a fresh look at cases that relied on the medical opinions of a leading Johns Hopkins doctor whose work for coal companies helped lead to benefits being denied to thousands of miners over the last two decades.

The reports demonstrated examples of miners who were denied benefits based on doctors’ conclusions that they did not have severe black lung, only to have autopsies prove -- after their deaths -- that they had the disease.

Casey is among several lawmakers from coal producing states who have voiced concern following the ABC News-CPI report.

In an interview for ABC News’ original report, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, called the findings "a total, national disgrace."

"The deck is stacked in theory and in practice against coal miners, men and women, and it is tragic," he said.

Casey said the “serious and thought provoking” news reports “helped provide momentum” for the congressional hearing.

“There's still a good deal of legislative work we have to do to make sure we're putting in place a law, or the elements of a law, so that this kind of fraud can't be perpetrated again,” he told ABC News in June.

One of those scheduled to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety is the Labor Department's senior attorney, Patricia Smith. She told ABC News in June that the agency is preparing to notify every miner whose benefits were denied based in part on the doctor's X-ray readings that they should consider reapplying for those benefits.

"This sends a signal that the Department of Labor hasn't sent in a long time," Casey said. "That they're not going to tolerate a system that's rigged."

The Labor Department action came in response to the report by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity that found the head of the Hopkins black lung program, Dr. Paul S. Wheeler, had not reported a single instance of severe black lung in the more than 1,500 claims that the news outlets reviewed going back to the year 2000. Labor department officials said they were unaware of Wheeler's record until the ABC News report was broadcast.

"It was shocking," Smith said.

A Labor Department bulletin sent out to district directors in June instructed them to "(1) take notice of this reporting and (2) not credit Dr. Wheeler's negative readings... in the absence of persuasive evidence" that challenge the conclusions of the news organizations.

"My judgment of his credibility is that unless someone can convince us otherwise, that anyone who has done that many readings and never found black lung isn't probably credible," Smith said.

In court testimony in 2009, Wheeler said the last time he recalled finding a case of severe black lung, a finding that would automatically qualify a miner for benefits under a special federal program, was in "the 1970's or the early '80's."

Hopkins suspended Wheeler's black lung unit a few days after the ABC News/CPI report was broadcast and posted online.

Hopkins said it would conduct its own internal investigation, which a spokesperson said remains ongoing.

"We take these allegations very seriously and are still conducting the investigation into the [black lung] program," Hopkins spokeswoman Kim Hoppe said in a June email. "While our investigation is ongoing, nobody at Hopkins -- including Dr. Wheeler -- is performing" black lung X-ray readings.

Reached by phone in June, Wheeler said he hopes to be cleared by the internal Hopkins investigation -- which he said is being conducted by the Washington, D.C., law firm Patton Boggs.

"The hospital still believes in my approach," he said.

Wheeler told ABC News then he was unmoved by the Labor Department bulletin.

"They're not doctors," he said. "If they were from qualified medical institutions, I would be very unhappy."

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Obama Demands 'Full Access' to Malaysia Airlines Crash Site

The White House(WASHINGTON) -- Issuing a stern call for “immediate and full access” to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, President Obama on Monday said the behavior of the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine begs the question, “what exactly are they trying to hide?”

“They have repeatedly prevented international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage,” the president said. “These Russian-backed separatists are removing bodies from the crash site, oftentimes without the care that we would normally expect from a tragedy like this. And this is an insult to those who’ve lost loved ones. It’s the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations.”

“Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened and putting forward the facts. We have to make sure that the truth is out and that accountability exists,” Obama told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.
Delivering his strongest statement yet on the crash and investigation, the president said the burden is on Russia, and particularly President Vladimir Putin, to compel the separatists to cooperate with the investigation.

“President Putin says that he supports a full and fair investigation. And I appreciate those words, but they have to be supported by actions,” Obama said. “The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site. The separatists and their Russian sponsors are responsible for the safety of the investigators doing their work.”

“Now is the time for President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy that they’ve been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities within Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and respects the right of the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions about their own lives.  And time is of the essence,” he said.  

Obama reiterated that he still prefers to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine.

“I believe that can still happen. That is my preference today. And it will continue to be my preference,” he said.

But Obama also warned Russia that if Moscow continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and back the separatists, “then Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.”

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Obama to Honor Army Staff Sgt. with Medal of Honor

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Badly injured, alone, and surrounded by Taliban fighters, Ryan Pitts had resigned himself to dying.

“The other guys had died fighting; I owed it to them to do the same,” the former U.S. Army staff sergeant, who will be awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House on Monday, told ABC News.

Pitts is credited with maintaining an observation post and preventing the bodies of fallen soldiers from falling into enemy hands during a 2008 battle in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of nine Americans.

Pitts and his platoon were establishing a new U.S. outpost outside the small village of Wanat, when a force of 200 Taliban fighters surrounded the outpost in the early morning hours of July 13, 2008 and launched a surprise assault.

“There was a burst of machine gun fire from the north and then it just erupted with RPGs and fire from pretty much 360 degrees -- every location,” Pitts recalled.

Pitts was at an observation post about 300 feet away from the main outpost when the attack erupted. He remembers being wounded almost immediately.

“I took shrapnel to my right leg, pretty much all the way around up until my lower back and then left leg somewhat, left arm and a little bit on my forehead,” Pitts said.

After then-Spc. Jason Bogar applied a tourniquet to the worst injury on Pitts' right leg, Pitts began fighting again.

“I crawled to the northern fighting position where we had some of our hand grenades and started to throw them along the northern edge of our perimeter,” he said.

But soon came a terrifying moment: Pitts realized he was completely alone.

“It didn't sound like there was any fire coming out of the OP from any of the fighting positions,” he said. “So, I crawled around and saw that everybody was either dead or gone.”

Pitts picked up his radio and called for backup only to be told that there was no one to send.

“I said, ‘OK, then this position is going to fall,’ and I just got off the radio after that,” Pitts said.

He was scared only momentarily.

“Then, when I thought about it," he said. "I wasn't going to let them take me alive, and so I wasn't as scared anymore.”

Pitts resolved to fight to the end.

“[I] shot a grenade launcher ... straight up in the air, so I could drop it directly on where I thought the enemy was,” he said. “[I] called down to our first squad where they were and asked anybody that could see the OP to shoot over the tops of the sandbags ... [so that the enemy] wouldn't be able to crest the top of the sandbags.”

Pitts managed to independently maintain his position until backup support arrived. But despite his leading in the battle, Pitts insists that the actions of his fellow squad mates were of equal importance to his in pulling the team through the battle.

“I think it was ‘our’ actions that maintained that position,” Pitts said. “[Sgt. Brian] Hissong, at 1st squad, he was the one shooting over the tops of the sandbags. That helped. All the guys fighting as hard as they did, guys like Cpl. Jonathan Ayers, who took a round to the helmet and kept shooting his machine gun -- eventually, he was killed doing that. Everybody contributed; it wasn't just me.”

And as he prepares to receive the nation’s highest award for military valor from President Obama, Pitts said it will be on behalf of his entire squad -- and especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“There were 48 of us and approximately 200 enemies that basically had everything they should've had to be victorious,” Pitts said. “They had us outnumbered, the high ground, [the] element of surprise ... and we fought and held our ground.”

Members of his platoon, as well as his wife and 1-year-old son, will join Pitts at Monday’s White House ceremony.

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After Bitter Senate Runoff, Georgia Republicans Will Pick Candidate

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two months of Republican-on-Republican badmouthing will finally come to an end in Georgia on Tuesday.

Either Rep. Jack Kingston or former Dollar General CEO David Perdue will become the GOP candidate for the state's open Senate seat, to be vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, kicking off what’s expected to be one of the most hotly contested elections in the country.

The top two finishers in a seven-way May 20 primary, Perdue (30.6 percent in that vote) and Kingston (25.8 percent) have run an intensely negative race against each other ever since.

Each candidate has sought to be regarded as the more conservative.

Perdue, the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, has aired a string of TV ads assailing Kingston as a big spender who will continue Washington’s current ways.

In his own series of negative ads, Kingston has relentlessly questioned Perdue’s business record, pointing to layoffs, offshoring and a bailout by a government agency at companies with which Perdue was involved. Kingston has also hit Perdue for failing to vote in previous GOP primaries and has accused him of backing the Common Core education plan, which Perdue has said numerous times he does not.

Prompted by none of the seven initial-round primary candidates surpassing 50 percent of the vote in May, the runoff has bought time for Democrat Michelle Nunn, a candidate who has raised Democratic hopes of taking a Senate seat in a deep-red GOP stronghold.

The daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and the former CEO of President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, Nunn has faced questions about her stance on Obamacare (she supports modifications to it, won’t say whether she would have voted for it and has opposed repeal), but Nunn has largely avoided direct attacks from the Republican candidates running against each other.

Polling has shown a real possibility of Nunn winning in November: In early May, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey showed her beating Perdue by one percentage point (statistically even) and topping Kingston by 10 in prospective matchups.

Despite an electorate comprised of 41 percent minorities among active registered voters, no Democrat has won a statewide election in Georgia since Sen. Zell Miller in 2000, and no Democratic presidential candidate has come within 5 percentage points of winning Georgia since Bill Clinton carried it in 1992, eking out a win from George H.W. Bush by fewer than 1 percentage point.

After the runoff, the winner can be expected to ramp up attacks on Nunn. A conservative group, the Ending Spending PAC, reportedly bought air time last week to attack her with a round of ads.

“After the Republican primary run off, the joyride for Michelle Nunn will come to an abrupt end,” Georgia GOP spokesman Ryan Mahoney said.

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Obama Has 'Serious Concerns' About Middle East Death Toll

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama on Monday warned that the United States has “serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.”

Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, the president said “it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama noted that Secretary of State John Kerry has departed for the Middle East, where he has instructed Kerry to push for an immediate cease-fire.

“Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved. Nevertheless, I’ve asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities. We don’t want to see anymore civilians getting killed,” Obama said.

Once again, the president reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself and said “as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.”

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Obama Signs Executive Order Expanding Employment Protections for LGBT Workers

The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama signed an executive order at the White House on Monday that will protect LGBT employees from discrimination.

The order will prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against their LGBT employees or from discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment.

While it is already illegal to discriminate in hiring based on race, religion, gender and a number of other grounds, Obama believes more can still be done to further protections on sexual identification.

Despite the action taken by Obama on Monday, Congress would have to act to extend such protections to private employers.

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Obama Calls Australian Prime Minister on MH17 Investigation

Credit: The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama spoke with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sunday night regarding the situation surrounding the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down over eastern Ukraine last week.

Obama and Abbott agreed that the ongoing international investigation must be "prompt, full, unimpeded and transparent." Speaking for the second time in three days, the leaders also agreed that Russia has a responsibility to use its "extraordinary influence with the pro-Russian separatists who control the crash site" to inspire cooperation, a readout of the call said.

The two nations agreed to continue to coordinate closely during the course of the investigation. The Sunday call echoed the main points made during the initial call between Obama and Abbott on Friday afternoon.

Obama, speaking from the South Lawn of the White House on Monday, said Russian-backed separatists, who are controlling the crash site, need to allow investigators to recover bodies. He said they had previously fired their weapons in the air when investigators approached the scene and have tampered with evidence.

"Russia, and President Putin in particular, has a direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation," Obama said.

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Kerry to Travel to Cairo Monday, Push for Gaza Cease-Fire

Credit: US Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department said Sunday that Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cairo, Egypt on Monday to meet with senior officials on the ongoing tensions in Gaza.

"The United States -- and our international partners -- are deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life," a State Department statement said.

Kerry is expected to support a push for a ceasefire, similar to a truce agreed upon in November 2012.

Kerry is also expected to meet with Egyptian officials, as well as other officials from nations in the region.

The Egyptian government has pushed for a ceasefire agreement that is supported by both the United States and Israel, however, Hamas rejected the proposal.

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'Enormous Array of Facts' That Russia Supported Rebels Accused of Shooting Down Plane, Says John Kerry

State Department photo/ Public Domain(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Evidence indicates Russia was involved with the separatists accused of shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 over Eastern Ukraine, said Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged Russian president Vladimir Putin to do more to avoid future tragedies like Thursday's crash.

"There are an enormous array of facts that point at Russia's support for and involvement in this effort," Kerry told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, noting that many of the separatists in the region are actually Russian, not Ukrainian, and that the United States has strong intelligence that Russia has been arming and training them.

Kerry said Putin should publicly call out the separatists and encourage them to begin a political reconciliation process with the central government in Ukraine, and stop additional weapons from landing in the hands of the separatists.

Kerry also condemned the rebels' handling of the debris field, as they have been seen tampering with the wreckage and bodies there, as well as blocking the access of international monitors.

"Drunken separatists are stacking bodies into the back of trucks, removing materials from the site," Kerry said. "This is an insult to everybody. It's really a moment of truth for Russia to step up and be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Kerry also discussed the violence in the Middle East, expressing frustration that Hamas, the political and military group that controls Gaza and which the U.S. and Israel view as a terrorist organization, have not worked harder to reach a ceasefire with the Israelis.

"It's ugly. War is ugly," Kerry said. "But [Hamas] needs to recognize their own responsibility."

He added that the U.S. has been working with leaders in the region to reach a mutual ceasefire, and from there negotiate the underlying issues that have been dogging leaders from both Israel and Gaza since well before this latest round of violence began.

Kerry underscored that Hamas would have to accept a ceasefire deal without additional concessions from Israel, like the release of prisoners, before it is allowed a chance to discuss those types of issues at the table with Israel.

"We can't reward this terrorism with a bunch of preconditions up front," Kerry said.

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Benjamin Netanyahu: Hamas Committing 'Double War Crime'; Rails Against 'Mad Islamists'

Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he is sorry for civilian casualties in Gaza, but he lashed out at Hamas, asserting the Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip is purposefully putting civilians in harm's way while also attacking innocent Israelis with rockets.

"We regret any civilian deaths but those lay entirely at Hamas' door," Netanyahu told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday. "Hamas is deliberately targeting our civilians; they've fired 2,000 rockets, 2,000 rockets at Israel cities. Seventy-five percent of our population has to be in bomb shelter alert of 60 seconds or 90 seconds. They're digging these terror tunnels from Gaza, from homes in Gaza to penetrate and infiltrate Israeli territory. They emerged and killed Israelis and run back or try and run back into their territory, so we've had to take actions."

"What Hamas is doing very cynically is embedding its rocketeers, its rocket cashes, its tunnels — these terror tunnels in homes, in hospitals, in schools, and when we take action, as targeted as we can, they then use their civilians as human shields," Netanyahu added. "So Hamas is both targeting civilians and Hamas is hiding behind civilians. That's a double war crime, and therefore all civilian deaths as regrettable as they are fall on their shoulders."

Israel began an incursion into Gaza Thursday evening and the resulting operation has left scores of Palestinians dead, including 60 killed on Sunday alone. The growing number of Palestinian civilian deaths has sparked international outrage, but Netanyahu told ABC News that Israel strives to avoid civilian deaths while placing the blame squarely on Hamas.

"Hamas wants to kill civilians on the Israeli side and the amazing grotesque and gruesome fact is they want to have as many civilians killed on the Palestinian side, because it gets you to ask me these questions. And of course our goal is not to hurt a single individual, not to hurt a single civilian," the Israeli prime minister said.
"What they are doing is a double war crime and should be condemned with the most forceful action because these people are like ISIS, they're like al Qaeda, they're like Hezbollah and the other Iranian proxies. They don’t give a wit about the Palestinians and all they want is more and more civilian deaths," he said.

When asked whether Israeli forces would re-occupy Gaza, Netanyahu outlined his goal for the current military operation.

"I think our goal is to restore a sustainable quiet," Netanyahu said. "And I think if we get that we'll have to use that quiet to recruit the international community to demilitarize Gaza."

Near the end of the interview on This Week, Netanyahu said that "mad Islamists" are the real challenge facing the Middle East.

"There is a problem in the Middle East. The problem is that we have these mad Islamists. I say the last thing we want to do is have them have missiles, drones, chemical weapons or in the case of Iran, nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said. "That would really change history."

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