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A rare honor
With the announcement of the Medal of Honor for former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, 11 service members — seven of them soldiers — have received the nation's highest award for valor for actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first seven were awarded posthumously. Spc. Ross McGinnis, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor and Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham were honored posthumously for their actions in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti and Navy Lt. Michael Murphy were honored posthumously for their actions in Afghanistan. Former Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor from these wars. Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry and Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer also received the Medal of Honor. All three men were honored for their actions in Afghanistan.
Remember the fallen
Eight soldiers were killed in the Oct. 3, 2009, attack on Combat Outpost Keating in northeastern Afghanistan. They were:
Staff Sgt. Vernon W. Martin, 25, of Savannah, Ga.
Staff Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos, 27, of Tucson, Ariz.
Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt, 24, of Applegate, Calif.
Sgt. Joshua J. Kirk, 30, of South Portland, Maine
Sgt. Michael P. Scusa, 22, of Villas, N.J.
Spc. Christopher T. Griffin, 24, of Kincheloe, Mich.
Spc. Stephan L. Mace, 21, of Lovettsville, Va.
Pfc. Kevin C. Thomson, 22, of Reno, Nev.
A former staff sergeant who helped repel one of the largest, most vicious battles against U.S. forces in Afghanistan will receive the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Friday.
Clinton L. Romesha, 31, will be the fourth living service member to receive the nation's highest award for valor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Seven other service members have posthumously been awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in those wars.
Romesha will be awarded the medal Feb. 11 at the White House.
Romesha was a section leader in B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division during the Oct. 3, 2009, attack on Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan.
Eight American soldiers were killed and two dozen others wounded in the battle as the troop-sized element fought against an overwhelming enemy force that launched a brazen attack to overrun the COP.
The attack on COP Keating remains one of the deadliest attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan and is chronicled in the book "The Outpost" by Jake Tapper.
Several other soldiers at COP Keating that day have been honored for their actions. According to Army Times' reporting and "The Outpost," at least nine soldiers — including the platoon leader who ran operations that day and the physician assistant who treated numerous casualties and gave his own blood to keep one of his patients alive — were awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for valor.
In "The Outpost," Tapper outlines Romesha's unwavering courage and determination as the vastly outnumbered American troops and their Latvian partners battled an enemy force numbering more than 300.
Romesha is described as intense, short and wiry.
"The son of a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church in Cedarville, California … his parents had hoped he would follow his father into the church leadership, and Romesha had in fact gone to seminary for four years during high school — from five till seven every morning — but ultimately it just wasn't for him. He didn't even go on a mission, a regular rite for young Mormon men. Romesha was better suited to this kind of mission, with guns and joes under his command."
At 5:58 a.m. Oct. 3, 2009, the enemy launched its attack from all four sides of the small COP, which was nestled in the bottom of a valley surrounded by towering mountains.
About 50 American, 20 Afghan and two Latvian soldiers were stationed at COP Keating, along with about a dozen Afghan Security Guards. Nearby, the 19 American and 10 Afghan soldiers at Observation Post Fritsche also came under heavy fire.
Firing a recoilless rifle, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, machine guns and rifles, the enemy quickly wreaked havoc on the two positions.
In two minutes, the first U.S. soldier was killed as the enemy targeted the COP's mortar pit and pinned down the soldiers at OP Fritsche, preventing them from providing supporting fire to COP Keating.
The Afghan troops and security guards reportedly quickly abandoned their posts, leaving the Americans and Latvians to fight alone.
During the first three hours of the battle, mortars hit the COP and OP every 15 seconds, and in less than an hour, the enemy swarmed the COP, breaching the Afghan army side of the compound. The enemy eventually set fire to the small outpost, destroying almost 70 percent of it.
Romesha and his fellow soldiers immediately fought back — and continued to fight for hours — as heavy enemy fire rained down on them from all directions.
According to the citation accompanying Romesha's Medal of Honor, the staff sergeant moved under intense enemy fire to reconnoiter the battlefield and seek reinforcements from the barracks before returning to action with the support of an assistant gunner, who is identified in "The Outpost" as Cpl. Justin Gregory.
Romesha "took out an enemy machine gun team and, while engaging a second, the generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, inflicting him with shrapnel wounds," according to the citation.
Undeterred by his injuries, Romesha continued to fight, and upon the arrival of another soldier to aid him and with the assistant gunner, Romesha again "rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers."
Romesha then mobilized and led a five-man team and returned to the fight.
"With complete disregard for his own safety, Romesha continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he moved confidently about the battlefield, engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets, including three Taliban fighters who had breached the combat outpost's perimeter," according to the citation.
As the enemy attacked the COP with even "greater ferocity, unleashing a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifle rounds," Romesha "identified the point of attack and directed air support to destroy over 30 enemy fighters."
When he learned that other soldiers at a distant battle position were still alive, Romesha and his team provided covering fire, allowing three of their wounded comrades to reach the aid station, according to the citation.
Romesha and his team also moved 100 meters under "withering fire" to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades.
Romesha's calm — and sense of humor — under fire is described in "The Outpost."
During the battle, Romesha tries to rally Spc. Zach Koppes, who was pinned down in a Humvee.
As recounted in "The Outpost":
Romesha ran up to the vehicle under enemy fire.
"This doesn't look good," Romesha said. "We're all going to die."
He laughed — he had a pretty dark sense of humor, Romesha. "You okay?"
Koppes looked at him. Bullets were ricocheting off the truck right next to him, but the staff sergeant just stood there looking back at Koppes, smiling the whole time.
Holy shit, he's lost his mind, the specialist thought.
"Yeah, I'm good," Koppes finally replied. "I still got this sniper behind me."
"Okay, stay low and hang tight," Romesha told him.
At that moment, the sniper shot at Romesha, who then ducked behind the Humvee and began playing peekaboo with the enemy, trying to draw him out so he could see exactly where he was firing from. He decided that the Taliban fighter was midway up on the Northface, so he fired the Dragunov [rifle] at the spot.
Then he turned and airily announced to Koppes, "All right, I'm going to head out."
Romesha's actions "throughout the day-long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers," according to the citation accompanying his award. "His extraordinary efforts gave Bravo Troop the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counter-attack that allowed the troop to account for its personnel and secure Combat Outpost Keating."
After the battle, COP Keating, which had been slated for months to close but had remained open because of continual delays, was shut down and destroyed.
Romesha, of Lake City, Calif., is married and has three children. He enlisted in the Army in September 1999 as an M1 armor crewman, and deployed to Kosovo and twice to Iraq before serving in Afghanistan.
Romesha left the Army in April 2011 and currently lives with his family in Minot, N.D., where he works as a field safety specialist for an oil field construction firm.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Romesha's awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge.