President Obama hailed him as a hero and exemplary soldier for his actions on a day of carnage four years ago in Afghanistan that left eight Americans dead and two dozen wounded.
But for Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter, the Medal of Honor bestowed on him Monday was forged from his Army brothers’ death and suffering. The Spokane native vowed to accept the nation’s highest military honor as a duty to help heal the psychic wounds of war.
Carter, now stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), became the fifth living Medal of Honor recipient for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. All were recognized under Obama’s watch; seven other men have been honored posthumously.
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To date, 6,749 service members have died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Another 51,410 have been wounded in action. Some 60,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, where America’s longest war has lasted 12 years and counting.
Carter, 33 and a father of three, was honored for, among other actions, risking his life to retrieve an injured soldier, 21-year-old Spc. Stephan Mace of Lovettsville, Va., amid enemy fire during a bloody battle with the Taliban on Oct. 3, 2009.
In the White House East Room, Obama recounted some of Carter’s heroics to 300 guests, including Carter’s wife, Shannon; Vice President Joe Biden; surviving members of Carter’s Black Knight troop at Combat Outpost Keating; and families of the dead soldiers.
At dawn, the unit’s 53 members in a remote valley in Nuristan province came under stealth attack by more than 400 Taliban fighters who had surrounded the compound from high ground.
Three Americans, including Mace, raced to a Humvee to return fire. Carter, then a specialist, ran 100 meters through whizzing bullets to supply them with extra ammunition. Then he ran back again through the hail to fetch more magazines and lubricant for the Humvee’s machine gun.
Shortly after that, rocket-propelled grenades struck the Humvee, injuring Carter and two of four soldiers with him. As the men attempted to disperse to rejoin the rest of their troop, one was gunned down and Mace was wounded by shrapnel.
After another hour of fierce fighting, Carter spotted Mace, his leg shattered, calling for help 30 meters away under a volley of Taliban bullets.
Disregarding a warning of likely death from his superior, Sgt. Bradley Larson, Carter ran to put a tourniquet on Mace’s leg, and then carried him back to a Humvee. It took nearly five more hours before Carter and Larson could dodge sniper and machine-gun fire to deliver Mace to an aid station.
It wasn’t until nightfall, however, that a medevac helicopter could safely transport Mace to Bagram Air Field, a large U.S. military base in Afghanistan. He died at the hospital.
“Now, Ty says, ‘This award is not mine alone,’ ” Obama told the audience.
Instead, the president said, Carter says “everyone did what we could do keep each other alive.”
Obama noted the men of Combat Outpost Keating are among the most-decorated of any unit in the war, with almost 100 Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars and other honors for gallantry and bravery among them.
The president also tallied “how far the heartbreak ripples”: five widows, seven fatherless children, 17 parents without sons.
In February, Obama awarded a Medal of Honor to one of Carter’s fellow survivors, Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha. They are the first pair of soldiers since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor for the same battle.
At the time of his deployment in Afghanistan, Carter was a scout with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team from Fort Carson, Colo.
Obama also praised Carter for his candor in acknowledging and seeking help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Carter, who serves with JBLM’s 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, plans to help other soldiers suffering from PTSD with recovery.
Following the ceremony, Carter read a statement outside the White House, saying he represents “the thousands who suffer the invisible wounds of war.”
Carter said he lost hearing in his left ear during the firefight. But he said Mace’s pleas for help will echo for the rest of his life.
Mace’s mother, Vanessa Adelson, told reporters last week Carter carries deep guilt over her son’s death. Adelson said she was grateful to Carter for ensuring her son “did not die in the dirt. He was able to be with the people he loved, his Army brothers.”
Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kyungmsong