Published: August 28, 2013
THE PENTAGON - For the survivors of the battle of Combat Outpost Keating, the Medal of Honor festivities this week have been like a family reunion.
Six of the 53 soldiers who fought against more than 300 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley gathered in the Pentagon on Tuesday - yet another day to recognize heroism.
Among them: Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, who was inducted into the Army's Hall of Heroes a day after he received the nation's highest award for gallantry from the hands of President Barack Obama.
"We all still talk," Sgt. Kellen Kahn said. "We're like a family."
Added Capt. Stephen Cady: "When we get together, it's like no time has passed." The veterans of Keating have become legends in the Army.
Despite losing eight men and seeing 27 of them wounded, the grossly outnumbered soldiers of Fort Carson's B Troop of the 3rd Squadron of the 61st Cavalry Regiment held their ground Oct. 3, 2009.
In addition to Carter, Clint Romesha also earned the Medal of Honor for his heroics. It is the first time since the Vietnam War that two military members won the medal for the same battle.
The veterans gathered this week, remembered the fight and mourned.
"I have mixed emotions," said Spc. Christopher Chappell, who planned to visit the grave of Spc. Stephan Mace at Arlington National Cemetery later Tuesday.
Carter earned his medal for braving enemy fire in a bid to save Mace's life during the battle. He managed to dress Mace's wounds and pull him to safety, but the specialist later died.
"It's definitely an honor to have another soldier from B Troop honored," Cady said.
As the war in Afghanistan winds down and the Army pares its ranks, the service is putting special emphasis on wartime accomplishments. The Hall of Heroes induction ceremony at the Pentagon drew dozens of generals in an auditorium full of brass. The only major military figure missing was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is traveling in Asia.
"Today we pay tribute to a soldier who put himself in the thick of the fight again, again and again," Gen. John Campbell, the Army's vice chief of staff, told the audience. "We are extraordinarily proud of Staff Sgt. Ty Carter."
The Hall of Heroes, near the Pentagon's entrance, is a shrine to bravery throughout the history of the military.
Carter, who was known in the cavalry troop for his eccentricities, has a unique entry into that hall. He's the first living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who has talked frankly about his battle with war-caused mental illness.
Kahn, who himself has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after the 12-hour desperate battle at Keating, said having a PTSD survivor wearing the nation's top military honor will help America understand that it is not a sign of weakness.
"Getting it out there as an issue is a good thing," Kahn said.
Chappell added that what Carter says on the issue will carry a special weight with soldiers.
"He'll become a role model," Chappell said.
Cady said the fact that Carter recovered from PTSD with the help of Army mental health experts will give some legitimacy to Army treatment programs.
"Getting help is important," Cady said.
The Army has battled alarming rates of war-caused mental illness and a spike in suicide since combat in Afghanistan began nearly 12 years ago. The Pentagon estimates that one soldier in four will come home with some symptoms of war-caused mental illness.
Maj. Stoney Portis, who was B Troop's commander at the time of the battle, said the Army is backing Carter in his crusade against PTSD.
"He's the right man to do it, in so many ways," Portis said.
Part of what drives Carter in that fight is the death of Pvt. Ed Faulkner, a Keating survivor who took his own life less than a year after returning to Colorado Springs. The Army is now calling Faulkner, who battled mental illness and substance abuse on his return, the ninth casualty of Keating.
"It shows us how those wounds take their toll on soldiers," said Joseph Westphal, undersecretary of the Army.
Carter's recovery shows that mental wounds can heal when the victim is determined to recover.
"It takes the same courage that you showed on the battlefield to seek ways to heal," Westphal said of Carter.
The men of B Troop remember a different Carter. The man before Keating was known for wearing a leather jacket and Indiana Jones fedora.
Carter spoke of having a hard time fitting in when he arrived at Fort Carson. But the cavalry troop became family when the Taliban attacked.
"We were one that day. Out-positioned, outnumbered and outgunned," Carter told the audience.
During brief remarks, Carter choked up talking about Mace and other fallen comrades.
He said he remains haunted by the men who didn't come home.
Now, the soldier is part of military lore - "a poignant reminder of courage," Undersecretary of Defense Ashton Carter said.