On October 3, 2009, Army Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha was thrust into a life and death scenario in Kamdesh District, Afghanistan. For his actions there, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration in the United States military.
Three months earlier, Romesha and the rest of his unit had just been deployed to Outpost Keating, a “remote s***hole that sits all the way at the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides.”
Even with the knowledge that Keating was “a strategically inferior position,” every soldier did what they needed to do without complaining or falling into pools of self-pity. “It was always really interesting as a leader to just be around those guys and their attitude,” Romesha said.
Romesha and crew received word during their time at Keating that some of the more remote outposts were going to be shuttered. Approximately two weeks before the October 3 attack, they were informed that Keating would be closing up as well.
Nearly every day over the course of Romesha’s three month post, reports would come in claiming imminent attack from Taliban fighters, but almost every report failed to materialize the way it did on October 3.
On that day, everything changed.
I was still wrapped up in my bunk. I’d just gotten off a 12-hour shift at sergeant of the guard, because our platoon, Red Platoon, was perimeter security for that week. We didn’t really see anything that night that was out of the ordinary – then again, when you’re at the bottom of a valley, and you can’t see any of the dead space surrounding all sides of you, it’s easy for the enemy to sneak in, and that’s what they did.
At about 6 in the morning, “just as we swapped out guards, they hit us.”
I remember just waking up, getting out of bed, throwing my kit on, throwing my radio on, and you could just – I mean, the noise and the chaos – you could immediately tell that it wasn’t American bullets flying out. The machine gun, the mortar fire, the rocket-propelled grenades, the sniper fire. It was the enemy coming in.
According to Romesha, it wasn’t unusual to be attacked in the mornings, but he somehow knew that this time, it was different.
Every one of our perimeter defense positions was just calling in – overwhelming enemy fire. They were trying to fight back. The gunners that we had up there were going into a cyclic rate of fire, so, as fast as their guns could fire, they were just throwing it back at the enemy, because the key is to try and establish that fire superiority.
It wasn’t enough.
With three .50-cal machine guns, two MK19s, we just couldn’t gain the initiative. They had the positions pinned; they had them fixed. The guys were trying to do everything they could.
Casualties were being reported almost immediately. The Taliban fighters were attacking the compound in a strategically intelligent and effective way. In short order, Red Platoon was running out of ammunition across the board
We were trying to push guys out, and it was just a domino effect of one thing going wrong, and then another thing going wrong. It got to the point where essentially, we were gonna isolate about nine guys, shrink back into the Alamo position, hold up there, and just wait for, I guess, some guys thought, our final demise.
Maybe we could hold out long enough for the QRF to get there or something like that, but I just remember thinking that we’d already lost Gallegos and Larson; we thought we’d lost the mortars, Sgt. Breeding and Rodriguez and the rest of them. We knew the front gate was compromised. I knew that if the roles were reversed, Gallegos would have done everything to come get me.
There wasn’t really ever a moment I can think of where I was scared for myself. I don’t remember worrying about getting shot. I don’t remember worrying about dying. I mean, those thoughts never crossed my mind. What really terrified me to death was, if I was where Gallegos was, if I was where Sgt. Breeding was, those boys would come and get me no matter what. The motivation to go was that fear of losing them, because we’d heard the tactics of the Taliban; they were always wanting to grab Americans and use it as propaganda. It was really an important thing that you never leave anybody behind.
It goes back to that love of each other, and the love of those families; to actually bring their loved ones home for that closure, for that one final goodbye.
After attempting to reach Gallegos, and failing to do so, Romesha and Lieutenant Andrew Bundermann made the decision to counter-attack, to recapture the ammunition resupply station, close the front gate, and find the men who were separated.
We had a map there in the tactical operations center. Like I said, we were almost out of ammunition on the back end, so we knew if we couldn’t get there, regardless of how much we wanted to fight to the end, there wasn’t gonna be a fight left without any bullets.
Despite the “harebrained” nature of Romesha and Bundermann’s plan to recapture the ammo supply point and counterattack, five men volunteered.
That was the only thing I said when I came through that door. “I need a group of volunteers,” and I had five guys stand up. Raz, Delaney, Danley, Jonesie, and Miller. I didn’t tell them what I needed them for, I just said that I needed a group of volunteers. They stood up, and then I told them the plan.
“Hey, boys. We’re gonna counterattack. We’re gonna take back the ammo supply point, then we’re gonna push up. We’re gonna grab and close the front gate, and then we’re gonna go all the way up to the mortar pit and recover anybody we come across.”
There was no place you were standing outside where you weren’t gonna get shot. The enemy, like I said, had the high ground, had the positions. After asking for volunteers, then explaining that harebrained plan to them, for those guys to say, “Hey, we’ll follow you anywhere,” that’s a sense of pride – not just as a leader, but as a brother to each one of them – that they’d believe in me enough to follow me anywhere. I mean, I was asking them to go into the gates of hell.
The team made it to the ammo supply point, and secured the gate.
Call it luck; call it divine intervention; call it intelligent tactics. I don’t know. It worked out, and I don’t know what or who to give credit to for that other than the guys doing their jobs, and realizing that we weren’t just gonna roll over and take it.
Over the course of the 15-plus hour firefight, Romesha and much of his team continued to defy the odds and survive. Once the gate was closed, they were able to reconvene with Brad Larson and Ty Carter, who had “grabbed Stephan Mace,” though he was severely wounded.
After securing the gate, the team had a brief moment of peace.
We stopped, and all of us in the Shira Building cracked open a quick Dr. Pepper. I sparked up a cigarette, took a couple of drags, and we drank our Dr. Peppers. I mean, all the chaos was still going on, but we took this five minute pause where it was just like, you know what? Life is f****** awesome. We got cigarettes, and we got f****** Dr. Pepper. It was just this moment of calmness and reassurance in all the chaos, doing something as simple as drinking a soda and smoking a dart.
We got done with that, and we got back to work. From there, we had another four-hour firefight in front of us, and we were able to continue to push forward.
When all was said and done, eight men died in the “Battle of Kamdesh.” Romesha’s plan to recapture the ammo supply point was merely one of numerous acts of courage in the face of extraordinary danger for which he was given the Medal of Honor.
DW: What is the psychological impact of receiving the Medal of Honor?
ROMESHA: For me, it was weird – and I know that’s an understatement. After the dust settled, we still had nine more months left in country. I was initially told that I was gonna get put in for a distinguished service cross, which is right below the Medal of Honor. But personally, and I know this is gonna sound really jaded and messed up, awards don’t mean a whole lot. The respect of the guys and that brotherhood – them knowing what I did, and me knowing what they did – for me, that carries more weight than any medal or any award.
Then all of a sudden, after being up in the oil fields of North Dakota after leaving the Army, and putting that whole incident in a box, I get that phone call. I pick it up, and on the other end of the line, a guy identifies himself as G1 from the Pentagon. He says he wants to talk to former Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha.
He said, “Well, hey, we need to talk to you about something, but we can’t tell you over the phone. We need you to come out to D.C.” Of course, my initial reaction is, “Oh crap, what’d I do?”
I told him, “Well, I don’t have very many vacation days saved up right now, and we’re working six to seven days a week. I’ll see what my boss says, and I’ll give you a call back.”
I got back in touch with the Pentagon, and said, “Hey, I can show up for a weekend, but I gotta be back for work.” They made the arrangements. I flew out there. Full-blown colonel picks me up from the airport, and immediately takes me to the Pentagon.
As soon as I walk in, I’ve got generals and colonels and all this high-ranking brass. “Oh, congratulations Sgt. Romesha, hey good job.” Okay, well obviously the MPs aren’t here to arrest me, so probably not going to jail. So, what’s going on?
I remember they brought me into this big conference room. They sat me down at the head of the table, and as I sat down, they had these three posters in front of me. They start talking, and I literally feel like Charlie Brown at school. I’m not listening to a word they’re saying. I’m just staring at these three posters. I finally look up, and I’m like, “All right, time out.” Everyone stops, and I say, “Hey, what is all this Medal of Honor stuff?” It was a colonel or major or someone, I don’t know, looked over at me, and he said, “Well, you don’t know?” I look at him, and I’m like, “No I don’t know. What is all this Medal of Honor stuff?”
Someone else chimes in and says, “Well, you’ve been recommended for upgrade, so short of the president signing the award, you will be receiving the Medal of Honor.” I felt almost ashamed at that point. I just looked at him and said, “Why me?” I was like, “There were eight guys who died that day who did way more heroic things than I ever did. They gave up everything. Why am I getting the Medal of Honor? I didn’t do anything special.”
Immediately after that, I went over to meet with a retired general, a retired three star from Vietnam, Medal of Honor recipient. I got to sit down and talk to him for a couple hours. I asked him the same thing. I’m like, “Why me? I didn’t do anything special.” He says, “That’s the exact phrase that came out of all of our mouths.” He’s like, “The reason you’re getting the medal is because the guys on the ground that day saw you do something great, and it comes from them. And what you did is a direct reflection of those guys.” That really hit home.
I was very, very proud to be thought of in that way from the guys I was there with. But like I said, it was also, I don’t want to say embarrassing, but it was just like I didn’t do anything special. I just did my job like everyone else was doing, so why not Larsen? Why not Kirk? It goes back to, like I said, I didn’t think I did anything special. I just did what I thought anyone else in that situation would have done.
Then as I struggled with that initially, I also realized that we have eight guys that are no longer here to tell their story. They have no more days with their family, no more hugs, no more birthdays, no more Christmases. They’re the reason I’m here today. Now, if I have a platform to be able to help share their story, that’s where I can pay back what they gave to me. I can help make sure they’re not forgotten. Guys like Mace who, I mean, just every day, he woke up with a smile on, and no matter how crappy things got, he always looked for the best of every day. You had guys like Sgt. Kirk who was one of the toughest, grittiest examples of a good leader I’ve been around. You had guys like Gallegos who held his soldiers to a different standard of perfection that I have yet to see replicated by another NCO.
Those guys were just amazing men, so it’s been a blessing and a curse to carry the burden, but to be able to share it with people, to share those stories, share those memories. I hope when you read “Red Platoon,” you really get to know each one of those guys.
The MoH comes with a very, very high price, but you’re also given opportunities to make a difference, and to make sure that those heroic men are remembered. There’s no direct way to explain what combat is to someone that’s never seen it, but if we can shine a little bit of light on it for some appreciation and some perspective – once we start hiding our history and forgetting the sacrifices before, it’s easy to forget the path we’re on now. You can easily go astray when you forget your past.
DW: How was it adjusting to civilian life again?
ROMESHA: I was trying to get a job initially with the Department of Energy, basically doing the same thing as a Cav Scout in the Army for nuclear waste transport and security where I’d be doing route reconnaissance and still operating weapons and tactics. Then all of a sudden as I was going through the process, had that all lined up – then my hearing disqualified me, which is messed up. It’s one of the few federal jobs that they won’t let you waive a hearing test.
When that fell through, my brother-in-law had been hounding me for years and years to get into the oil field, because he knew my mentality, that I was a very hands-on guy. The boom was just crazy up here in North Dakota.
As soon as I got out, I had about three months worth of leave, so I spent a month back in Colorado fly fishing, just decompressing, powering out. My son was just about to be born, so Colin came along. Then immediately after that, I was like, “I’m gonna go up, start working the oil field,” so I had at least two months of pay that I could double up on.
DW: Do you feel valued as a veteran by the general public or by the government?
ROMESHA: Even before receiving the medal, I had never really felt like I was disrespected or left behind or forgotten. I just never really had a bad experience. But that goes back to moving up to North Dakota – it’s a very patriotic state. I mean, just the people in general are super nice. That’s one of the reasons I love it up here. They’re genuine. They’re true to their word. So, in my environment up here, it’s always been very positive, very supporting.
When I first got up here, I was having trouble with the Army on getting my old medical records. I went to the courthouse, and our local veteran liaison within two weeks was able to produce them for me. So, I never had the horror stories even back before the medal of having trouble with the VA, just because the community up here are doers, and not just sayers.
DW: What would you want others to know about Medal of Honor recipients? Is there anything that you want to say that you haven’t been able to say in an interview like this, or in your book, that you would want our readership to know?
ROMESHA: I really want people to understand the motivation of veterans and Medal of Honor recipients. It’s not a motivation to hate, to go out and get the biggest body count. It’s nothing like that at all. It’s that pure motivational love for one another. I love my brother so much that I’m gonna get up from behind cover, run through an open field where 300 guys are trying to shoot me at once. That motivation to get to your team comes from love.
Another other thing I’d really like people to understand is that service doesn’t come from having to throw on a camouflage uniform and go to Afghanistan, Iraq, or wherever. I think what we as a country need to do is quit being so self-centered, and look at service as just doing something more than being selfish. That comes from our parents. That comes from our communities. That comes from our teachers, our firefighters, our law enforcement, and it should come from our politicians. We need to, as a society, be less self-centered and know that we can do something of service without putting the uniform on.
The Daily Wire would like to thank Clint Romesha for sharing his experiences with us. Romesha’s book, “Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor,” is available on Amazon.