3:07am

Mon August 26, 2013
The Two-Way

Pain, Loss And Tears Come With Medal Of Honor

Originally published on Mon August 26, 2013 4:04 pm

Update at 3:14 p.m. ET. Carter Receives Medal Of Honor:

Saying he represented "the essence of true heroism," President Obama presented Army Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter with the nation's highest military honors, this afternoon.

"As these soldiers and families will tell you, they're a family forged in battle, and loss, and love," Obama said, according to the AP.

Our Original Post Continues:

The Army staff sergeant who Monday afternoon will receive the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony has mixed emotions.

"I would never tell any soldier or service member, 'Hey, go out and get the Medal of Honor', because of the amount of pain and loss and tears that has to be shed in order to receive it," Staff Sergeant Ty Michael Carter tells Morning Edition host Renee Montagne.

Carter, 33, is being given the nation's highest military honor for his actions during a 2009 firefight in Afghanistan. He was a specialist at the time and stationed with the Army's Black Knight Troop at Command Outpost Keating.

The soldiers' location was vulnerable — a remote valley surrounded by three steep mountains. It's the type of place the military no longer posts troops in Afghanistan, in part because of what happened there on Oct. 3, 2009.

Even though Taliban fighters fired at them nearly every day, Carter tells Renee it was immediately clear something much worse was happening on this day.

"It was as if somebody kicked an ant hill," he says. "The bullets, the rockets, the mortars, everything, a wall of spikes — they're pointing at you."

The Army says Carter killed enemy troops, resupplied ammunition to American fighters, rendered first aid and risked his own life to save an injured soldier who was pinned down by a barrage of enemy fire.

Carter says he's honored to be recognized for his bravery. But, he adds:

"Even though this award is an awesome honor and a great privilege, in order to get such a prestigious award, you have to be in a situation where your soldiers, your family, your brothers, are suffering and dying around you. And then, you just did everything you could to save lives or prevent further loss."

According to the Army, "of the 53 members of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, who defended the position, eight soldiers were killed, and more than 25 were injured."

President Obama is scheduled to bestow the medal at a 2 p.m. ET ceremony. C-SPAN is among the news outlets that will stream the event.

Carter will be the fifth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

His other military awards:

"Include the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal (with 4 oak leaf clusters), the Army Achievement Medal (with 2 oak leaf clusters), the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Navy/Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal (with two campaign stars), the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (with numeral 2 device), the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Combat Action Badge, the Expert Infantryman Badge, and the Air Assault Badge. He is also authorized to wear the Valorous Unit Award and the Meritorious Unit Commendation."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The events on a battlefield four years ago will be remembered today during a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House. Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter earned the nation's highest military honor for his actions during an ambush in Afghanistan.

He was a specialist at the time, and stationed with the Army's Black Knight troop at Command Outpost Keating. Their location was vulnerable, a remote valley surrounded by three steep mountains. It's the kind of place the military stopped posting troops in Afghanistan, in part because of what happened on Oct. 3, 2009.

Even though Taliban fighters were firing at the outpost nearly every day, Ty Carter says it was immediately clear something much worse was happening on this day. When we spoke to him, he described a deluge of metal.

STAFF SGT. TY MICHAEL CARTER: The bullets, the rockets, the mortars, everything a wall of spikes that are pointing at you.

MONTAGNE: As the fight raged on, a comrade - Spc. Stephan Mace - went down from a shrapnel wound. That torrent of incoming fire and orders from a commanding officer, Sgt. Brad Larson, kept Ty Carter from quickly answering Mace's increasingly desperate cries for help.

CARTER: Mace was able to see me; I was able to see him. By the time he asked me for help, he had bled out so much that it looked like he was crying, but he was too dehydrated to actually have tears.

MONTAGNE: You ran for him, and you did bring him back.

CARTER: Yeah. The amount of incoming fire was shifting, just enough to where Sgt. Larson let me go get him. Once back at the truck, Sgt. Larson and I agreed that due to Mace's injuries, that he wouldn't last very long. And so again, I left the truck to establish communications 'cause we didn't have any communications, so there was a possibility that everybody else had been killed - 'cause we saw enemy walking through carrying our weapons that they must've removed from one of the downed soldiers. But luckily, when I rounded the corner where Sgt. Gallegos was killed...

MONTAGNE: Sgt. Gallegos, and that was Justin Gallegos.

CARTER: Yes, ma'am. I found his radio and said, this is Blue Four Golf, is anyone still alive? And I heard a voice, and that's all I needed. And I sprinted back to the vehicle and handed the radio over to Larson. And then Larson coordinated a type of counterattack with the aviators, the teams on the ground - just everybody put their finger on the trigger and wouldn't let go until they knew we were safe. And because of that, Sgt. Larson and I were able to get Mace to the aid station.

MONTAGNE: You must have rolled this over in your mind. At the point at which you ran to save Stephan Mace, you knew that he wasn't going to make it.

CARTER: No. No. I totally believed that I could save him. Through all my training - I mean, Boy Scouts, Marine Corps; I was a lifeguard - I believed that we could save him. And his mother told me that in a way, we did. The fact that he believed that he was coming home; he was with his friends; and before he went under surgery, he received his - excuse - he received his last rites. And for religious people, that is one of the very few things that puts a soul to rest.So in a way, Sgt. Larson and I and the rest of the Black Knight troop, we did kind of save him.

MONTAGNE: Yes, you did. In the end, you were able to repel hundreds of Taliban fighters. It was at a great cost; and among the costs for you, it was that you developed post-traumatic stress. Help us to understand from the inside, what the world looks like when you have PTSD.

CARTER: Well, I think part of the stigma, or the fear, is because of that last word on it. They call it post-traumatic stress disorder, or syndrome; and it's your body's natural way to remember and prevent a traumatic experience from happening again.

A very small form of post-traumatic stress is a baseball player, and he receives a pitch - hits him in the head. Now, for the next three or four games, every time he steps up to bat, he's going to be thinking about that pitch that caused him the pain.

And that's just a form of it. In fact, he might even have a minor flashback of seeing the pitch - and the ball come through the air. What happened with me pretty much changed my view of a lot of things. For example, I was walking through an airport, and I saw a picture that advertised travel, and there was a mother and a father and a little girl there at, like, the Grand Canyon or some national park.

Instantly, I felt a large amount of sorrow because I was transported back to the night after the firefight, where I imagined my daughter growing up without a daddy. So all within a fraction of a second, you're slammed with all these emotions and memories. It takes a lot of effort to choke back the tears, and try to act normal.

MONTAGNE: You know, the services are now taking PTSD quite seriously. Has that been your experience - because it has had a stigma for so long.

CARTER: In my experience, the military understands it a lot better. And because of the help they've given me, I was able to not only redeploy but before that, I was - or I am a good enough person socially to where I was able to meet my beautiful wife and have a brand-new baby. And I credit that to the NCOs that, you know, almost forced me to go to behavioral health, and also the behavioral health people for being so understanding and helping me through my issues.

MONTAGNE: You have every right to feel pride in your actions of the day that has earned you the Medal of Honor. I'm just wondering - it being such a public award, if there are also a mixture of emotions that you're feeling?

CARTER: Oh, big time. Even though this award is an awesome honor and a great privilege, in order to get such a prestigious award, you have to be in a situation where your soldiers - or your family, your brothers - are suffering and dying around you, and then you just did everything you could to either save lives or prevent further loss. And so I would never tell any soldier or service member, hey, go out and get the Medal of Honor because of the amount of pain and loss and tears that - has to be shed in order to receive it.

MONTAGNE: Certainly, your country is grateful for what you've done. Sgt. Carter, thank you very much for joining us.

CARTER: You're welcome, ma'am. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter will receive the Medal of Honor today for his actions in 2009 during an ambush at Command Outpost Keating in Afghanistan. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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