Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter received the Medal of Honor during a ceremony Monday at the White House, marking the first time since the Vietnam War that two living service members have earned the nation’s highest award for valor for actions in the same battle.
Carter is the second soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the Oct. 3, 2009, battle at Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan.
Former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, who did not attend Monday’s ceremony because of a previous commitment to attend a benefit event for homeless veterans in California, received the Medal of Honor Feb. 11.
Carter, 33, who is now assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., will be inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes on Tuesday.
“I’m humbled and honored that I get to represent the soldiers of Black Knight Troop and the families of the fallen,” Carter said in a statement to the media after the ceremony. “I stand here proud that I’ve been chosen to represent the 50-plus soldiers … who faced impossible odds. I’m nervous about living with the responsibility of telling their story.”
Carter’s heroism is “the story of what our troops do for each other,” President Obama said during the ceremony.
When COP Keating, one of the most remote and also most vulnerable outposts in Afghanistan, was attacked, Carter displayed the “essence of true heroism, ‘not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost,’” Obama said.
Carter, who was a scout assigned to B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, is credited with braving fierce enemy fire to resupply his fellow soldiers and treat and carry Spc. Stephan Mace to safety during one of the largest, most vicious battles against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
He is the fifth living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Seven service members have posthumously been awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in those wars.
Carter was part of a small American force at Combat Outpost Keating when an enemy force estimated to number almost 400 attacked the outpost, intent on overrunning the outnumbered U.S. forces.
Eight Americans were killed and about two dozen others were wounded, but the soldiers defeated the enemy and saved the COP.
During his remarks, Obama described the enemy barrage as “chaos,” a “blizzard of bullets and steel.”
When Carter reached Mace, he tended to Mace’s extensive wounds, including “grabbing a tree branch to splint his ankle,” Obama said.
“If you are left with just one image from that day, let it be this: Ty Carter bending over, picking up Stephan Mace, cradling him in his arms, and carrying him – through all those bullets – and getting him back,” he said.
Vanessa Adelson, Mace’s mother, attended the ceremony, along with the families of the other men who died that day.
Adelson said her gratitude for what Carter did for her son is “just beyond words.”
Carter saw another soldier, Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, die trying to get Mace to safety, but Carter risked his life anyway, Adelson said.
“The COP was getting overrun by Taliban,” she said. “My son Stephan was by himself, laying in the dirt, dying. But because of Ty’s actions and [Sgt.] Brad Larson … he was brought back to consciousness again. He was speaking. … Stephan was the only one of the eight [fallen soldiers] who was taken out of that hell hole and taken into surgery.”
After Carter carried Mace back to the Humvee where he and Larson had been trapped and seeking cover, the two soldiers rushed Mace to the aid station. There, the medics worked to keep Mace alive, giving him multiple blood transfusions, until he was able to be medically evacuated.
Carter’s actions gave bought her son more time with “the brothers he loved so much,” and gave him peace, Adelson said.
“Because of Ty’s actions, my son died thinking he was coming home to his mother, to his family,” she said. “He thought he was going to live. And when he was delivered to our Lord my son was in peace.”
Obama also praised Carter to speaking out about seeking help for post-traumatic stress.
“Ty has spoken openly, with honesty and extraordinary eloquence, about his struggle with post-traumatic stress,” Obama said. “The flashbacks, the nightmares, the anxiety, the heartache that makes it sometimes almost impossible to get through a day.”
After initially resisting help, Carter got the help he needed, Obama said.
“The pain of that day, I think Ty understands, and we can only imagine, may never fully go away, but Ty stands before us as a loving husband, a devoted father, an exemplary soldier who even redeployed to Afghanistan,” Obama said. “So now he wants to help other troops in their own recovery, and it is absolutely critical for us to work with brave young men like Ty to put an end to any stigma that keeps more folks from seeking help.”
Carter, who credits his former platoon sergeant, then-Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Hill, for making sure he got the help he needed, said the battle at COP Keating “is a part of me.”
“Only those closest to me can see the scars that come from seeing good men take their last breath,” he said. “During the battle, I lost the hearing in my left ear, but I will always hear the voice [of Mace]. I will hear his plea for help for the rest of my life.”
Carter urged Americans to take the time to “learn about the invisible wounded.
“Know that a soldier or a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress is one of the most passionate and dedicated men or women you’ll ever meet,” he said. “Know that they are not damaged. They are simply burdened with living with what others do not.”