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Navy SEAL receives Medal of Honor for Afghan rescue mission

Edward Byers Jr. participated in the rescue of Dr. Dilip Joseph, who was abducted along with his driver and Afghan interpreter.

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President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Byers received the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian being held hostage in Afghanistan on December 8-9, 2012.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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President Obama shined a spotlight on a "special breed of warrior" as he awarded the nation's highest military honor Monday to a Navy SEAL who participated in a daring 2012 raid that rescued an American hostage in Afghanistan.

Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers Jr. is the first living, active duty member of the Navy to receive the Medal of Honor in four decades.

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Obama said during a ceremony at the White House that Byers is the "consummate, quiet professional" who would rather be elsewhere, perhaps holding his breath under dark, frigid water.

"Today's ceremony is truly unique, a rare opportunity for the American people to get a glimpse of a special breed of warrior who so often serves in the shadows," Obama said, calling the ceremony perhaps the largest gather of special-operations members in the history of the White House.

Byers participated in the rescue of Dr. Dilip Joseph, who was abducted along with his driver and Afghan interpreter. The rescue was undertaken three days after the abduction by members of the Navy's famed SEAL Team 6.

"Whenever Americans are taken hostage in the world, we move heaven and earth to bring them home safe," Obama said. "We send some thunder and some lightning."

Obama recounted during the ceremony how the SEALs team rushed the building where the doctor had been taken. Byers ripped down a layer of blankets, exposing himself to enemy fire. A teammate pushed in and was shot. Byers moved in next and fired at an enemy guard.

Hearing English, Byers threw himself on the hostage, using his body to shield Joseph from the bullets, Obama said. Another enemy fighter appeared, and with his bare hands, Byers pinned the fighter to the wall and held him until his teammates took action.

"It was over almost as soon as it began. In just minutes, by going after those guards, Ed saved the lives of several teammates, and that hostage," Obama said.

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Once the doctor was moved to a helicopter landing zone, Byers, a certified paramedic, assisted in providing medical aid to his wounded colleague, who died of his wounds. That SEAL was Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checque, 28, of Monroeville, Pennsylvania. Obama also honored Checque's service during Monday's ceremony, noting that he is among 55 SEALs to make the ultimate sacrifice since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"He was an American hero, and he was the hero of that operation," Byers told reporters in a statement that he read just after the ceremony. "He died a warrior. He died to bring back another American."