February 11, 2013
WASHINGTON – Romesha stood straight, his eyes watering.
He wore his Army dress uniform — one he tucked away nearly two years ago in exchange for a life spent closer to his wife and three children, two girls and a boy.
And around his neck hung a blue ribbon holding a gold star that only a few of the most battle-hardened troops wear.
"God bless you, Clint Romesha," said President Barack Obama.
Romesha, who served with the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, received the Medal of Honor from Obama during an elaborate ceremony Monday at the White House.
In doing so, he became just the fourth living recipient of the medal for combat valor in Iraq or Afghanistan.
As Obama applauded Romesha, the former soldier's lips quivered.
He accepted the award with the same humble, quiet nature he garnered growing up on a small ranch in Lake City, Calif. — the ranch where he was born.
After the medal ceremony, Romesha read a prepared statement outside the White House: "I stand here with mixed emotions. I'm feeling conflicted with this medal I now wear."
In a ceremony as elegant as its setting — guests sat on gold chairs beneath three giant shining chandeliers — Romesha became the nation’s latest war hero. His actions during a 13-hour battle on Oct. 3, 2009, at Combat Outpost Keating have come to define him.
More than six hours after the Taliban pounded the outpost with mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire, Romesha regrouped his men and started systematically taking back the post.
The post was "tactically indefensible," an Army report later found.
"That's what these men were asked to do - defend the indefensible," Obama said.
The number of attacking Taliban varies from account to account — some accounts say at least 300, and his citation said there were 400 insurgents.
But the result was the same.
He killed more than 10 Taliban fighters that day using whatever weapons he could find in the burning outpost deep in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, his citation said.
He fired his own rifle, an M4. He used an MK-48, a machine gun. He picked up a Dragunov — a sniper rifle used by the Afghan National Army —and later hurled hand grenades at attacking insurgents.
And, he called in airstrikes that killed 30 Taliban fighters, the citation said.
He did nearly all of that after suffering shrapnel wounds to his shoulder, arm and neck — wounds Romesha didn’t acknowledge until another soldier spoke up. Some of the shrapnel needed to be pulled from his neck.
He risked further injury by running into raining gunfire to recover his fallen comrades.
The families of those soldiers were in attendance on Monday, receiving an ovation from the more than 200 people in the crowd.
Those killed included Pfc. Kevin Thomson, 22, who died two minutes into the fight. The last casualty, Spc. Stephan Mace, was pronounced dead more than 14 hours after the first mortar fell on Keating, despite a herculean effort to save the 21-year-old as he slowly bled to death.
"Clint lives his soldier's creed - never leave a fallen comrade behind," Obama said.
Romesha later paid homage to his fellow soldiers - those who died in Afghanistan and those survived, many of whom were at Monday's ceremony.
"They trusted in me, a non-commissioned officer, to be their leader," he said outside the White House. "And I thank them so much for that loyalty.
"This medal is for the eight soldiers that didn't make it."