Pinned down by a hail of mortar fire and bleeding from shrapnel pulled from his neck, Clinton Romesha led the charge to retake his soldiers’ outpost in Afghanistan.
Never mind they were outnumbered seven to one.
The former Fort Carson soldier’s bravery during that 13-hour siege three years ago in one of the deadliest attacks of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, earned him the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Friday.
The married father of three joins elite company. Only three other living people have received the award for their service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“All these other recipients are in good company now that Romesha is joining them,” said Capt. Stoney Portis, who wrote the citation as Romesha’s squadron leader.
President Barack Obama plans to award the medal — the highest honor afforded for “conspicuous gallantry” in combat — during a ceremony Feb. 11 at the White House.
Romesha, a former staff sergeant of the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, was unavailable Friday for comment, said Michelle Johnson, an Army spokeswoman. Romesha left the Army on April 4, 2011.
Surviving the blast of a rocket propelled grenade, Romesha’s courage that day kept the death toll from rising, soldiers in his platoon said.
The outpost was in a “tactically indefensible position” with an “unclear mission,” according to an Army investigation led by Army Gen. Guy Swan in the wake of the attack. Army leaders held off improving its defenses because it was scheduled for closure and “improvements would be of limited duration,” the report said.
Meanwhile, intelligence reports of an impending attack went unheeded, the report found.
Explosions and machine gun fire woke Sgt. Thomas Rasmussen the morning of Oct. 3, 2009.
The assault by at least 350 insurgents began when they rained mortars on Combat Outpost Keating, deep in the mountains of Nuristan province, Afghanistan.
Within minutes, nearly every Afghan soldier assigned to the outpost fled, said Rasmussen, another Fort Carson soldier. Taliban fighters streamed into the compound.
“We had talked about it, and we had joked about it,” said Rasmussen, of the Taliban threat to overtake the post. “And we described how we would do it if we were going to do it.
“I’ll give them credit,” he added. “They did it exactly how we would have done it.”
Running into the soldiers’ barracks for more ammunition, Rasmussen saw Romesha bleeding.
A little more than an hour into the siege, a rocket propelled grenade slammed into the generator Romesha was on — sending shrapnel into his neck, shoulder and arm, said Master Sgt. Michelle Johnson, an Army spokeswoman.
A soldier pulled the shrapnel from his neck, and Rasmussen bandaged his arm. The roughly 50 Americans and two Latvians at the outpost were mostly pinned in three buildings.
“That’s when I kind of just stepped back and I said well, these guys really aren’t playing today,” Rasmussen said. “They’re coming for blood, I guess.”
Romesha went to work.
Then acting platoon sergeant, Romesha coordinated nearly every step to retake the outpost — running out of the barracks and “tagging” insurgents, Rasmussen said.
When the soldiers’ bullets ran low, Romesha led his troops to take back the ammunition cache, which lay under insurgent control for half the battle, Rasmussen said. Then they retook the outpost’s entryway.
The battle raged 13 hours, despite the help of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and A-10 planes.
As bullets and rockets rattled in the compound’s headquarters, Rasmussen remembered leaning over to Romesha. “This is it,” Rasmussen said.
“And he told me ‘Hey, we’re not going to stop fighting, were just going to keep pushing and pushing and pushing,’” Rasmussen said.
“The thought of stopping fighting never crossed my mind,” he added. “But I was like if he’s going to run into this thing head on, I’m going to be with him.”
And several times, Romesha stepped into oncoming fire to try to get to stranded soldiers.
One man — Spc. Stephan L. Mace, 21, of Lovettsville, Va., bled so heavily that soldiers took breaks from fending off insurgents to give a quart of blood — an on-the-fly blood transfusion never before performed by their combat medic. Mace died of his injuries.
“Your heads racing and your adrenaline’s flowing and what little blood I guess is left inside of you is just pumping,” Rasmussen said. “You don’t even notice it.”
The deaths of eight soldiers with the 4th Brigade Combat Team that day, made it the deadliest single attack against the post’s troops since Vietnam. Two dozen were wounded.
By the time the bullets stopped flying, 80 percent of the compound lay in ruins. Three buildings in the center of the complex remained standing. The outpost was abandoned two days later.
But Rasmussen remains convinced that he wouldn’t have escaped without Romesha.
“He never had a question. He never had a doubt,” Rasmussen said. “It was just flawless execution.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654
Facebook Jakob Rodgers