WASHINGTON — Army Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter, the latest recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, hopes to use the award to help others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which has afflicted him since a 2009 battle in eastern Afghanistan that cost eight fellow soldiers their lives.
President Barack Obama awarded Carter the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony Monday, making the 33-year-old from Washington state the fifth living recipient of the decoration for heroic actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
In bestowing the medal, Obama hailed not only Carter’s gallantry in combat but “his courage in the other battle he has fought” — speaking out about his ordeal with post-traumatic stress. Obama said it was “absolutely critical ... to put an end to any stigma” that prevents troops from getting treatment for PTSD.
“No one should ever die waiting for the mental health care they need,” he said, referring to one of Carter’s fellow survivors who later took his own life.
Carter, then a specialist, distinguished himself when more than 300 Afghan insurgents launched 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 the 53 fellow 4th Infantry Division soldiers who defended the outpost that day, eight were killed and more than 25 injured, according to the Army.
“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.”
Carter, who was wounded in the fighting, became the second survivor of that battle to receive the Medal of Honor. In February, Obama awarded the medal to former Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha for actions in another part of the outpost. It was the first battle to produce two living Medal of Honor recipients since the 1967 Battle of Ap Bac during the Vietnam War.
Flaws in strategy
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 U.S. 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 at Monday’s ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “They said it was like being in a fishbowl.”
After 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, Va.
Carter ran into “the blizzard of bullets and steel” not once or twice, “but perhaps 10 times,” Obama said.
Mace later died in surgery at 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.
For Carter, the battle also resulted in a ninth fatality, as Obama noted Monday. Spc. Edward W. Faulkner Jr., a fellow survivor who also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, committed suicide less than a year after the attack.
Carter’s experiences led him to become active in helping veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars deal with PTSD. One of only two Medal of Honor recipients still on active duty, he is now stationed with the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in his home state.
In an article published on the Army’s website, Carter said that until the battle at Combat Outpost Keating, he believed “myths” that PTSD was not a real disorder, that it was “an excuse” and “a reason for soldiers to get out of work.”
Now, he said, “I’m hoping that I can help people through what I have to say, what I’ve experienced, to help them go seek help, or else we’re going to have more (soldiers) out there who self-medicate and end up taking their own lives.”