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Medal of Honor recipient, formerly of Fort Carson, wants to help eliminate PTSD stigma

July 29, 2013 Updated: July 30, 2013 at 9:55 am
Caption +
This undated photo released by the U.S. Army shows Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, of Spokane, Wash. The White House on Friday, July 26, 2013 said President Barack Obama will bestow the Medal of Honor on Carter for courageous action during a daylong firefight in Afghanistan. Carter, a former Marine who later enlisted in the Army, will be recognized at the White House on Aug. 26 for his action during a 2009 battle at a mountain outpost where U.S. troops were far outnumbered. (AP Photo/U.S. Army)

A former Fort Carson soldier who will be awarded the Medal of Honor next month is hoping to de-stigmatize post-traumatic stress disorder by speaking about his own struggles with it.

Staff Sgt. Ty Carter will receive the medal for heroic actions at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan during an Oct. 3, 2009, battle with hundreds of insurgents who tried to overtake the outpost, the White House said Friday in a press release.

At the time of the battle, Carter was assigned to the 3rd Squadron of the 61st Cavalry Regiment, part of Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team.

Speaking in a live webcast Monday from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he is stationed, Carter, 33, told reporters he was transitioning to a cadre position at the base's Warrior Transition Battalion for soldiers with serious injuries and long-term illnesses when he learned he would receive the medal.

The battalion "is designed to do the things I'm going to try to do, to get rid of the stigma of post-traumatic stress," he said. "There are a lot of soldiers who have it and are too ashamed to get help and eventually . it becomes an issue."

Carter, a native of Spokane, Wash., said he'll use his platform as a Medal of Honor recipient to work to decrease that stigma and hopes to return to duties at the battalion at a later date.

During the Oct. 3, 2009, battle, Carter risked his life repeatedly, running through gunfire to grab ammunition and supplies for comrades and then to rescue Spc. Stephan Mace, who was wounded and pinned down. Others had tried to reach Mace and died in the attempt.

Mace died after he was pulled to an aid station by Carter and others.

On Monday, Carter spoke about initially being unable to reach Mace, who was wounded.

"It broke my heart," he said. "A good man was lying there, wounded, begging for my help, so dehydrated that he couldn't even have tears, but you could see he was in pain."

His eventual rush to rescue Mace was both a reflex and the result of a promise he'd made to himself years ago, he said.

"A long time ago, I told myself that if I was ever placed in a combat situation, I wouldn't let fear make my choices for me," he said. "When Mace was down there, it was hard to think about anything else but doing what I could to get to him."

Carter also gave additional details on the moment he realized the combat outpost was in danger of being overrun.

"When I . saw the amount of rounds impacting, I instantly thought something was different," he said. "But it wasn't until I saw the look on Mace's face when he was pulling magazines out of my kit that I truly knew this was the main firefight."

Carter said he struggles with PTSD, though counseling has helped. He spoke about a comrade who died because of PTSD and called the condition "a combat wound."

"It's something that needs time to heal," he said. "The best way to do it is to use the facilities that the Army provides. The stigma is slowly going away, but I'm just worried about the new soldier who's trying to prove themselves by not seeking help."

Carter said he's "extremely nervous" about visiting the White House and meeting the president.

In February, when comrade Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha received a Medal of Honor for heroic actions during the same battle, many fellow soldiers traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the ceremony. But Carter stayed behind in Washington state.

"Everything I trained for my whole life pretty much led to" the rescue of Mace, Carter told The Gazette in February. "And when he died, I figured that I had failed."

On Monday, Carter said he didn't attend the ceremony for Romesha because "I'm kinda uncomfortable about being around the families of the fallen."

"I feel I owe them so much," he said. "I feel embarrassed to be in their presence because they have lost so much."

But counseling and speaking with Mace's mother have helped with that, he said.

"Mace's mother is just an excellent woman," he said. "I try to absorb strength from her.

"I probably will continue to go to counseling just so I can improve and be able to continue to speak to folks."

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