Soldiers who knew Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins described him as a great person who cared about the troops under his command and put them above everything else.

Sand Aijo, an infantryman under Atkins, and Col. John Valledor, Atkins’ battalion commander, came to Bozeman on Thursday to speak at a dinner honoring Atkins. Aijo and Valledor sat with the Chronicle before the dinner to share their experiences of the man they revered as a war hero deserving of the nation’s highest honors.

President Donald Trump awarded Atkins’ family the Medal of Honor in March for fighting a suspected insurgent in June 2007 to prevent him from detonating a suicide vest. Atkins, 31, threw himself on top of the suicide bomber, shielding three nearby soldiers from the explosion.

Aijo was one of those soldiers and said he tries not to think about what happened that day. Rather, he remembers the man who saved his life. Aijo said he feels like he is a living part of Atkins’ legacy.

“I try to make sure that the way I live my life is the best I can live, and that I make his sacrifice worthwhile,” Aijo said.

Aijo described Atkins like an older brother who always looked out for his soldiers and said the Army was a great fit for him. Atkins was Aijo’s first leader in the Army, and Aijo said he tries to hold himself to the high standard Atkins set.

“I always try to carry myself with that same professionalism and care that he always had,” Aijo said.

Valledor was at the scene where Atkins died about an hour after the incident and said Atkins was a natural born leader. There’s an old saying that veterans use, he said, “Travis gave up his tomorrow so that his fellow soldiers could enjoy their todays.”

“When you sit back and reflect on it, that’s love for a fellow human to be able to do that,” Valledor said.

Valledor recommended Atkins receive the Medal of Honor. He said Atkins subdued the man with his strength and used his body to shield his men from the bomb.

“That, to me, was the ultimate sacrifice,” Valledor said.

Bozeman’s Order of Daedalians, a group of U.S. Air Force veterans, hosted a dinner Thursday night to honor Atkins and his family for their service and sacrifice.

Freddy Monares can be reached at or 406-582-2630. Follow him on Twitter @TGIFreddy.

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