Honored as hero, soldier turns spotlight on mental health
WASHINGTON — Spc. Ty M. Carter ran low and fast across an American outpost while overwhelming numbers of Taliban fighters closed in.
He sprinted over ground where he could see bullets piercing the dust in front of him, gambling on getting ahead of the shooters' ability to target him.
Carter ran a gauntlet of heavy machine gun and sniper fire — carrying ammo, recovering a field radio, cradling a wounded comrade in his arms — sometimes zigzagging to dodge exploding rocket-propelled grenades or mortar rounds.
Carter distinguished himself when more than 300 Afghan insurgents began a coordinated attack at dawn on Oct. 3, 2009, in an effort to overrun Combat Outpost Keating, a vulnerable position surrounded by peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains in the remote Kamdesh district of Afghanistan's Nuristan province. Of his 53 fellow 4th Infantry Division soldiers who defended the outpost that day, eight were killed and more than 25 were wounded, according to the Army.
An Army staff sergeant, Carter has become the latest recipient of the nation's highest military honor. It was awarded on Monday by President Obama in a White House ceremony, making the 33-year-old from Washington state the fifth living recipient of the decoration for heroic actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Without regard to his own safety, Spc. Ty Michael Carter ... resupplied ammunition to fighting positions, provided first aid to a battle buddy, killed enemy troops, and valiantly risked his own life to save a fellow soldier who was injured and pinned down by overwhelming enemy fire,” the Army said in its citation. “He did all this while under heavy small arms and indirect fire that lasted more than six hours.”
When he wasn't moving through enemy fire in the battle, Carter and another soldier made their stand in an all-but-shredded armored vehicle — a last defensive bastion in a far corner of the fort. Surrounded by dead Americans and running low on ammunition, they shot and killed enemy fighters breaching the walls.
“When good men are dying all around you, you have to decide what your last moments are going to be like,” Carter said. “Are you going to die behind something, or are you going to die standing and firing? Are you going to die pushing forward or falling back?”
“Let me say it as clearly as I can to any of our troops and veterans who are struggling,” Obama said. “Look at this man, look at this soldier, look at this warrior. He is as tough as they come, and if he can find the courage and strength to not only seek help, but also speak about ... ”
“The outpost was being slammed from every direction,” Obama said. “Machine gun fire, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar, sniper fire, it was chaos. The blizzard of bullets and steel into which Ty ran not once or twice, or even a few times, but perhaps 10 times. In doing so, he displayed the essence of true heroism.”
Carter, who was wounded, became the second survivor of that battle to receive the Medal of Honor. In February, Obama awarded the medal to Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha for actions in another part of the outpost.
What became known as the Battle of Kamdesh exposed flaws in the military's counterinsurgency strategy and failures in addressing an increasingly untenable situation for isolated troops in the mountains near the Pakistani border. A Pentagon review later found that the outpost, which was closed immediately after the attack, should never have been established in the first place because it was too difficult to defend and the area too dangerous for provincial reconstruction teams.
“When soldiers like Ty arrived [at Keating], they couldn't believe it,” Obama said. “They said it was like being in a fishbowl.”
When the outpost came under attack from every direction, Carter braved fire from insurgents armed with recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, antiaircraft machine guns, mortars, sniper rifles and small arms as he repeatedly ran across open ground to deliver ammunition to comrades and to rescue a badly wounded soldier, Spc. Stephan L. Mace, 21, of Lovettsville.
Mace later died in surgery in a field hospital, and Carter blamed himself, believing that he had “failed” because he could not save the young specialist he had carried to safety.
Carter hopes to use the award to help others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which has afflicted him since the battle. “No one should ever die waiting for the mental health care they need,” he said.