WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha during a ceremony yesterday in the East Room of the White House.
Romesha, the fourth living service member to receive the medal for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, earned the Medal of Honor for actions Oct. 3, 2009, at Combat Outpost Keating in the Kamdesh district of Afghanistan's Nuristan province.
On that morning, Combat Outpost Keating -- manned by only 53 soldiers and situated at the bottom of a steep valley -- came under attack by as many as 300 Taliban fighters.
During the fight, the enemy breached the outpost's perimeter. Romesha, who was injured in the battle, led the fight to protect the bodies of fallen soldiers, provide cover to those soldiers seeking medical assistance and reclaim the American outpost that later would be deemed "tactically indefensible."
"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?'" the president said. "You ask Clint and any of these soldiers who are here today, and they'll 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."
The White House ceremony was attended by several hundred, including lawmakers, defense leaders, Romesha's family, and team members from Romesha's own Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. Also in attendance were Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III.
The president said that upon learning he would receive the Medal of Honor, Romesha displayed the brand of humility typical of many soldiers.
"When I called Clint to tell him that he would receive this medal, he said he was honored, but he also said, 'It wasn't just me out there. It was a team effort,'" the president said. "And so today we also honor this American team, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice."
Included among those who died in the fighting that day in Afghanistan were Pfc. Kevin Thomson, Sgt. Michael Scusa, Sgt. Joshua Kirk, Sgt. Christopher Griffin, Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, Staff Sgt. Vernon Martin, Sgt. Joshua Hardt, and Spc. Stephan Mace.
"Each of these patriots gave their lives looking out for each other," Obama said. "In a battle that raged all day, that brand of selflessness was displayed again and again and again -- soldiers exposing themselves to enemy fire to pull a comrade to safety, tending to each other's wounds, [and] performing 'buddy transfusions' -- giving each other their own blood."
Obama noted that it wasn't just Romesha who earned recognition for his actions that day. From that battle, soldiers earned 37 Army Commendation Medals, 27 Purple Hearts, 18 Bronze Stars and nine Silver Stars, the president said.
"These men were outnumbered, outgunned and almost overrun," Obama said. "Looking back, one of them said, 'I'm surprised any of us made it out.' But they are here today. And I would ask these soldiers -- this band of brothers -- to stand and accept the gratitude of our entire nation.
"God bless you, Clint Romesha, and all of your team," the president said. "God bless all who serve. And God bless the United States of America."
The president then asked that the Medal of Honor citation be read, and following that, he placed the medal around Romesha's neck.