WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is awarding the Medal of Honor to an Army veteran for his courageous leadership during a daylong firefight in Afghanistan.
Former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha is being recognized Monday at the White House for his actions during the 2009 attack on Combat Outpost Keating in the mountains near the Pakistan border. About 50 U.S. troops were at the outpost when it came under fire by hundreds of Taliban fighters, and Romesha led a fight against the enemy to protect the camp.
Eight U.S. soldiers were killed in the fighting and other 22 wounded, including Romesha, who was peppered with shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade but fought through his wounds. He dismisses his injuries as "nothing" compared to those suffered by some of his fellow soldiers.
"I've had buddies that have lost eyesight and lost limbs," Romesha said in a news conference last month after Obama called to tell him he would receive the award. "I would rather give them all the credit they deserve for sacrificing so much. For me it was nothing, really. I got a little peppered, that was it."
Jake Tapper, a CNN anchor who wrote a book detailing the firefight, said many key officers at the outpost were away the day of the firefight and Romesha rose to the occasion and filled the leadership vacuum. But he says Romesha remains astonishingly humble.
"Everything was just about his buddies and trying to save his fellow soldiers and trying to do everything he could, literally everything he could, at great risk to his own life over and over," said Tapper, author of "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor." ''He's still very broken up about how he couldn't save everyone. He saved lives that day, without question, but eight of the guys died that day and that still tears him up."
Romesha also served twice in Iraq and will be the fourth living Medal of Honor recipient for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is the nation's highest military decoration for valor.
Romesha, who grew up in Lake City, Calif., deployed out of Fort Carson, Colo. He now lives in Minot, N.D., with his wife and three children and works in oil field safety.
Combat Outpost Keating sat in a valley and came under attack from the mountains on all four sides at 6 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2009. An account of the fight by the Army says Romesha "displayed extraordinary heroism through a daylong engagement in which he killed multiple enemy fighters, recovered fallen soldiers and led multiple recovery, resupply, and counterattack operations."
When three Taliban fighters breached the camp's perimeter, Romesha shot and killed them with a rifle that belonged to the Afghan troops that he only had basic knowledge of. They were among more than 10 Taliban that Romesha killed that day under heavy enemy fire, and he also directed air assaults to protect the camp and recovered the bodies of U.S. troops who died in the battle.
"We weren't going to be beat that day," Romesha told last month's news conference. "And seeing all those guys pull together, I mean you're not going to back down in the face of adversity like that. We were just going to win, plain and simple."