On Oct. 3, 2009, more than 300 Taliban fighters descended on Combat Outpost Keating, a soon-to-be-abandoned site near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, in a well-coordinated ambush. Eight U.S. soldiers would be killed in the daylong battle, and 22 wounded.
When the fighting began — a hail of bullets from above, almost immediately overwhelming the 54-man force inside the COP — then-Spc. Carter was asleep. He rushed into battle wearing a tan T-shirt and PT shorts but did manage to grab his body armor.
He watched two friends die in the early assault and two more die trying to support his position. Another, Spc. Stephan Mace, was gravely wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade and left stranded in the middle of the kill zone.
Carter’s commanding sergeant forbade him from attempting rescue after the explosion, saying it was a suicide mission. Over the next agonizing hours, Carter watched Mace slowly dying just out of reach.
“A good man was lying there wounded, begging for my help,” he said, swallowing hard as he fought back tears. “But [Sgt. Brad] Larson knew that if I went out there, I’d be dead too. For that, I owe him my life.”
Still, Carter was focused on Mace. As the firefight began to shift in their favor — thanks to the efforts of Romesha across the base and aerial support — Carter pressed Larson again to let him try to rescue Mace.
Carter ran onto exposed ground to pull the almost lifeless Mace to safety. He had to make two trips — out to stabilize the fallen soldier, back to coordinate cover fire with Larson, out again to drag Mace across the kill zone back to relative safety.
Carter didn’t attend Romesha’s Medal of Honor ceremony, saying the 4-year-old battle still felt too raw for him. He talks about the nine losses his troop suffered in that battle — fellow soldier Ed Faulker Jr. battled PTSD and took his own life a year after the attack.
He has been open about his own struggles with PTSD, and said he hopes to use the new honor as a forum to talk about the stress of war and the stigma of seeking mental help. He deployed again to Afghanistan last year and has been in counseling to help him handle the battlefield horrors he can never unsee.
Stars and Stripes:
Carter was singled out for the award for his efforts to save Spc. Stephan Mace, who was mortally wounded and stranded in the kill zone before Carter selflessly sprinted to his position.
“I lost some of my hearing in that fight,” Carter said, “but I’ll hear the voice of Mace, and his pleas for help, for the rest of my life.”
The president also noted that Carter’s courage extended past the battlefield. In recent months, he’s become a self-made spokesman for troops suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, openly speaking about his own struggles after returning from the fight.
Obama called him an inspiration for the military in its struggle to end the stigma of seeking mental health treatment.
“Look at this soldier,” he said. “Look at this warrior. He’s as tough as they come, and if he can find the courage and the strength to not only seek help but also to speak out about it, to take care of himself and to stay strong, then so can you.”
Carter said he is “eager” to represent the troops fighting the invisible wounds of war. He addressed “the American people” at the end of his press remarks, asking for more understanding and empathy of post-war mental health issues.
“Know that a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress is one of the most passionate, dedicated men or women you’ll ever meet,” he said. “Know that they are not damaged. They are simply burdened with living what others did not.”
Maybe combat veterans with PTSD aren't "damaged," but they sure can be destroyed by their experiences. And if they're not "damaged," they sure can be disabled, which is why the U.S. government paid out $4 billion dollars in disability payments to veterans with PTSD in 2012. MoH
recipient Sgt. Dakota Meyer (USMC) tried to kill himself about a year after his combat deployment, but before he received the MoH. I wonder if the DoD would have awarded it to him posthumously?
It's amazing to me how many people, especially military personnel (not combat veterans, I might add), think that PTSD is a consequence of moral weakness or cowardice (and that they, of course, are therefore somehow immune to the psychological injuries associated with combat). Well, one in five Americans think that the sun revolves around the Earth, so I guess there's no helping some folks.
Here's a nicely done Public Service campaign by Medal of Honor recipients who encourage recent veterans to get help for PTSD and "don't let the enemy defeat you at home."
By the way, one of the eight MoH recipients from the Afghan War was a college graduate, and he majored in psychology.