Clinton Romesha, a former Army staff sergeant, was awarded the Medal of Honor this week at the White House for his heroic actions in Afghanistan during one of the most intense battles of the war. TODAY's Matt Lauer reports on his service, and Romesha talks about his reaction to the honor.
Clinton Romesha, who received the Medal of Honor earlier this week in an emotional White House ceremony, said chance played a significant part of the decisions he made while fighting off hundreds of Taliban fighters who attacked his remote outpost in Afghanistan.
“Just reacting. Just gut instinct. Just let the gut kind of lead the way and we got lucky. Got lucky,” he said Tuesday on TODAY.
Romesha became only the fourth living recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor, for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The retired Army staff sergeant was only one of 53 Americans at Combat Outpost Keating near the Pakistan border when Taliban rushed the compound and awoke the troops in what would be the beginning of an intense, day-long battle.
The Oct. 3, 2009 attack became one of the bloodiest battles in the Afghanistan war, eventually killing eight Americans and wounding 22 soldiers. Among the injured was Romesha, who was hit with shrapnel in the neck, arm and hip when a rocket-propelled grenade hit a generator he hid behind.
Despite his injuries, Romesha mounted a counterattack against the Taliban and led the effort to recover the bodies of his fallen comrades.
“In that moment, you just knew you had to rally the guys. We had to stick together as a team, like we’ve done time and time again, and dig deep,” he said. “Just like all the soldiers out there – it’s our job. That fighting spirit, and let’s go, guys. Let’s win.”
President Obama awarded Romesha the Medal of Honor during a somber White House ceremony Monday that also recognized the family members of the eight Americans who died in the battle and the surviving members of the units.
“These men were outnumbered, outgunned and almost overrun,” Obama said.
The battle exposed flaws in the military’s counterinsurgency strategy at the time, which president called “tactically indefensible" and resulted in numerous lessons for the Pentagon.
“One of them is that our troops should never, ever, be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible,” he said. “But that's what these soldiers did – for each other, in sacrifice driven by pure love.”
Romesha was visibly moved during the ceremony.
"So many emotions going through your head," he said, recounting his reaction. "To just know that I’m sharing the experience with so many great friends and family and all of America, and all the great support they gave us while soliders are still overseas."
Romesha's wife and three children joined him at the ceremony. His youngest child, Colin, who turns 2 next month, got the solemn proceedings off to a lighthearted start by playing peek-a-boo with the audience from a stage podium.
"Colin is not as shy as Clint," Obama later noted. "He was in the Oval Office and he was racing around pretty good, and sampled a number of apples before he found the one that was just right."
Romesha’s wife, Tammy, said Colin and their other children will have no problem growing up knowing about their dad’s bravery.
“He’s my hero every day, before, after, and in the future,” she said.