Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He came from a family of veterans, married his high school sweetheart, Tammy, and had three kids.
On Oct 3, 2009, everything changed.
In a predawn ambush at COP Keating, a combat outpost in Nuristan province near the Pakistan border, 300 Taliban stormed the base where 50 American soldiers became sitting ducks in a valley surrounded by mountains owned by the enemy.
"What happened next has been described as one of the most intense battles of the entire war in Afghanistan,” President Obama said during the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House on Monday.
“The attackers had the advantage -- the high ground, the mountains above,” the president continued. “And they were unleashing everything they had -- rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, mortars; snipers taking aim. To those Americans down below, the fire was coming in from every single direction. They'd never seen anything like it."
As the sun rose and the bullets flew, Sgt. Romesha and the others jumped from their beds. The sergeant managed to call in air support that killed 30 insurgents and reclaim a mortar pit, despite a shrapnel wound he suffered during more than 10 hours of fighting.
"With gunfire impacting all around him, Clint raced to one of the barracks and grabbed a machine gun,” the president recalled during the emotional White House ceremony. “He took aim at one of the enemy machine teams and took it out. A rocket-propelled grenade exploded, sending shrapnel into his hip, his arm and his neck.
“He kept fighting. Then, over the radio, came words no soldier ever wants to hear – ‘enemy in the wire.’ "
The combat came within 10 feet. The buddies of Sgt. Romesha and the other members of his team were pinned down in a Humvee.
"So he and his team started charging, as enemy fire poured down,” the president went on. “And they kept charging -- 50 meters; 80 meters -- ultimately, a 100-meter run through a hail of bullets. They reached their fallen friends and they brought them home."
An Army investigation into what happened that day found the outpost was "tactically indefensible."
Before issuing the country’s highest award for valor, the president said, “That's what these soldiers were asked to do -- defend the indefensible."
Sgt. Romesha remains a reluctant hero.
“I accept this tremendous honor on behalf of all soldiers who served with me that day,” he told reporters outside the White House. “This award is for the eight soldiers that didn't make it, and for the rest of the team that fought valiantly and magnificently that day. I will forever be humbled by their bravery, their commitment to service and their loyalty to one another.”
The parents of those who were killed that day were also at the White House, choking back tears and embraced one other as the president read the citation and mentioned each of those killed.
“Private First Class Kevin Thomson, who would have turned 26 years old today; Sergeant Michael Scusa; Sergeant Joshua Kirk; Sergeant Christopher Griffin; Staff Sergeant Justin Gallegos; Staff Sergeant Vernon Martin; Sergeant Joshua Hardt; and Specialist Stephan Mace,” the president said.
The other members of Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division stood to be recognized.
They received 37 Army Commendation Medals, for their valor; 27 Purple Hearts, for their wounds; 18 Bronze Stars, for their gallantry; and nine Silver Stars.
Sgt. Romesha remains emotional about what happened that day. He is harder on himself than anyone else. He left the army and now lives in Minot, N.D., with his wife and children and drives three hours round trip each day to his job as an oil field safety manager so he can be close to his family.
His fellow soldiers from COP Keating who were at the White House ceremony say they would follow Sgt. Romesha “to hell and back.”
They did on Oct 3, 2009 at a remote outpost in Afghanistan.