WASHINGTON — Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter admitted to reporters that he was nervous.
He had just received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama for his courage under fire, for running into an exposed battlefield time and time again to rescue a fallen friend during the deadly Battle of Kamdesh in 2009. He’s one of only eight men to receive the award for exemplary heroism in the Afghanistan War.
And he’s nervous about carrying that honor.
“I stand here proud to represent the (many troops) faced with the impossible on Oct. 3, 2009,” he said. “I’m nervous about living up to the responsibility of telling their story, with the honor and grace they deserve. I’m also nervous about representing the 1.3 million men and women who serve our nation in the Army uniform.”
On Monday, Obama lauded Carter as the finest example of the courage and sacrifice of the generation of troops who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade.
Carter, a 33-year-old father of three, was among 53 U.S. soldiers involved in the daylong battle. Eight men were killed in the fight, a brutal assault launched from surrounding mountainsides.
As enemy forces breached the walls of Combat Outpost Keating, Carter and his fellow soldiers scrambled to hold their ground and recover their fallen friends. Carter was singled out for the award for his efforts to save Spc. Stephan Mace, who was mortally wounded and stranded in the kill zone before Carter selflessly sprinted to his position.
“I lost some of my hearing in that fight,” Carter said, “but I’ll hear the voice of Mace, and his pleas for help, for the rest of my life.”
Carter has spoken about the guilt he still feels for the men lost in the fight — Mace survived the battlefield, but died in surgery later that night. Obama tried to blunt that in his commendation of Carter.
“Because you helped turn back that attack, soldiers are alive today,” the president said. “Because you had the urge to serve others at whatever cost, so many Army families could welcome home their own sons. And because of you, Stephan’s mother Vanessa … is able to say, ‘Ty brought Stephan to safety.’”
The president also noted that Carter’s courage extended past the battlefield. In recent months, he’s become a self-made spokesman for troops suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, openly speaking about his own struggles after returning from the fight.
Obama called him an inspiration for the military in its struggle to end the stigma of seeking mental health treatment.
“Look at this soldier,” he said. “Look at this warrior. He’s as tough as they come, and if he can find the courage and the strength to not only seek help but also to speak out about it, to take care of himself and to stay strong, then so can you.”
Carter said he is “eager” to represent the troops fighting the invisible wounds of war. He addressed “the American people” at the end of his press remarks, asking for more understanding and empathy of post-war mental health issues.
“Know that a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress is one of the most passionate, dedicated men or women you’ll ever meet,” he said. “Know that they are not damaged. They are simply burdened with living what others did not.”
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Carter joked that his family was more excited to visit Washington, D.C., to see the sights than to hear more about Dad’s Army work.
Obama laughed at the comments during the ceremony and offered his own history lesson to Carter’s children.
“If you want to know what makes our country truly great, if you want to know what a true American hero looks like, then you don’t have to look far,” he said. “You just have to look at your dad. Because today, he’s the sight we’ve come to see. Your dad inspires us, just like all those big monuments and memorials do.”