Medal of Honor awarded to Afghan vet

White House photo
President Barack Obama applauds former staff sergeant Clinton Romesha

Former staff sergeant Clinton Romesha was serving with Bravo Troop at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan.

He and 52 other U.S. soldiers came under an intense AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenade attack from a force estimated at more than 300 Taliban fighters.

Despite shrapnel wounds, Romesha organized and led a counter-attack to hold the outpost, calling in air strikes and helping to recover fallen comrades.

Eight U.S. soldiers were killed and 22 wounded in fighting that lasted through the day.

President Obama recounted Monday the battle and the courage Romesha and fellow-soldiers showed in the face of devastating fire.

“Throughout history the question has often been asked, why? Why do those in uniform take such extraordinary risks and what compels them to such courage? You ask Clint and any of these soldiers who are here today and they will tell you, yes, they fight for their country and they fight for our freedom; yes, they fight to come home to their families. But most of all they fight for each other, to keep each other safe and to have each other’s backs,” said President Obama.

Afterwards, Romesha appeared before media cameras at the White House and said that like other Medal of Honor recipients he had mixed emotions of joy and sadness as he remembered sacrifices of fellow soldiers.

“I’m feeling conflicted with this medal I now wear,” said Romesha. “The joy comes from recognition for us doing our jobs as soldiers on distant battlefields. But it is countered by the constant reminder of the loss of our battle buddies. My battle buddies. My soldiers, my friends.”

Romesha said he and his comrades were determined not to be beat that day in Afghanistan, adding he accepted the Medal of Honor for all who served and the eight who died. President Obama recognized members of Bravo Troop during the ceremony.

In his remarks before awarding the medal to Romesha, President Obama noted the results of an investigation into the attack showed that the camp was tactically indefensible. It was in a deep valley with high ground on all sides.

“There are many lessons from COP Keating,” said Obama. “One of them is that our troops should never, ever be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible. That is what these soldiers did for each other, in sacrifice driven by pure love.”

The son of a Vietnam War veteran, Romesha also served in Kosovo, and Iraq. He is the fourth living recipient to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

President Obama has awarded the medal to three other living Afghanistan war veterans, and posthumously to four veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea.

Romesha receives another honor today. He will be among guests invited by the president to observe the State of the Union Address, sitting next to First Lady Michelle Obama in the House of Representatives chamber.

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