With small arms gunfire, mortar rounds and Rocket Propelled Grenades from hundreds of Taliban firing into a small U.S. Army outpost in Northeastern Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha asked his fellow soldiers if there were any volunteers to help him lead a counterattack to take back the front gate.
He was surprised by the response -- a powerful moment of truth which he would later call the proudest moment of his Army career.
Their outpost had been overrun, Army soldiers had been killed, remaining fighters had been unable to get to ammunition supplies and Taliban fighters had breached the front gate, Romesha explained.
“I said I need a group of volunteers. Five guys who did not even know what the plan was and did not know what I was about to ask stood up with pure grit and determination and said they would follow me anywhere. I told them the counterattack plan,” Romesha told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Romesha helped lay down suppressive fire so that fallen soldiers could be recovered during the attack, destroyed numerous Taliban fighters coming through the gate, directed air support from Apache helicopters once they arrived and led an impactful counterattack which turned the tide of the deadly battle on that morning of October 3, 2009.
Romesha and his fellow soldiers, who spent months on a small, 52 soldier-strong fighting position in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan called Combat Outpost Keating, were used to daily attacks from Taliban fighters.
“All of a sudden we were overwhelmed with machine guns, mortars and RPGs. We’d been there three months and had gotten attacked pretty much on a daily basis, so it would not have been unusual to wake up to something like that. When these rounds came in, we knew it was something totally different,” he explained.
Romesha explained that every defensive position went into a cyclic rate of fire to try to defend as fast as they could shoot back -- but the enemies overwhelming fire was too much for them.
“Soldiers started running out of ammunition at the battle positions and we could not get resupplies to them because the outpost sat at the bottom of a valley. Anytime you step outside into the open, you were a target. No matter where we stood, bullets were just raining down on us,” he explained.
Romesha’s counterattack plan was both risky and ambitious because he wanted to lead a small team of soldiers to take back ammunition points, close off the front gate to Taliban fighters pouring in, get to a mortar position, and perform a crucially important casualty recovery of the fallen soldiers.
“The Lieutenant gave me a go ahead on the plan. The Taliban fighters that had breached the wire had started torching all the hard structures in the buildings and burning them. The whole outpost was on fire,” Romesha recalled.
Due to resilience and combat determination from Romesha and other soldiers, they were able to fight their way back toward ammunition supply points on the outpost and take back the front gate. This counterattack push resulted in close-quarter battle wherein Taliban fighters were often less than 20-meters away, Romesha explained.
“We started pushing ammo back and started reinforcing positions which allowed us a little more freedom of maneuver,” he said.
As this was happening, air support from Apache attack helicopters arrived along with some eventual reinforcements from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
While he may not choose to explain things this way, it seems clear from the events that day that the whole outpost would not likely have survived – and casualties would have been far greater – had Romesha not shown such courage, spirit and leadership in battle. His counterattack saved the Outpost from complete destruction.
While confronting a deadly blaze of gunfire and repeatedly risking his life to save, defend and recover his fellow soldiers, Romesha was not thinking of recognition on the day of the battle. In fact, upon learning years later that he would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the battle, Romesha was surprised.
“It was definitely a team effort that day. If it was not for those 52 guys I would not be here. I’d rather die today than take one shred of credit for doing nothing more than doing my job like everyone else was doing,” he said.
Romesha went on to emphasize that, in his mind, the real heroes are the eight soldiers who died in battle that day.
“They are only gone unless we do not remember them. In my humble opinion, true heroes are those that don’t come home. Those are the only ones that deserve that title of hero. They gave up everything and more than could ever be asked of them,” he explained.
While he is still reluctant to acknowledge his own heroism on that day in 2009, called the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan, Romesha received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in February, 2013.
On the day of the battle, Romesha was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavarly Regment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. He fought alongside fellow soldiers and insists on remembering his fellow American soldiers who died that day.
In order to recognize and pay tribute to Romesha’s emphasis – the names of the eight soldiers who died during the attack are: Vernon Martin, Justin Gallegos, Joshua Kirk, Josh Hardt, Michael Scusa, Stephen Mace, Christopher Griffin and Kevin Thompson.
The intensity of devotion to his fellow soldiers, motivated by loyalty, love and protective instinct, provided the inspiration for Romesha’s actions in combat.
“It wasn’t a day of hatred toward the enemy. It did not matter about the politics. It mattered about those brothers to your left and your right – we did not fight because we hated the guys who were attacking us, we did it more because we loved the guys that were on our left and right. Love will win out over hate and anger any day of the week,” Romesha said.
Romesha is the son of a Vietnam veteran and a grandson of a World War II veteran. He lives in North Dakota.
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