He was a soldier above all, “just a regular grunt,” and that had been honor enough until the Army and the nation singled him out, said Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, the latest recipient of the Medal of Honor.
“Some say I’m a hero, but that doesn’t make sense because I got to come home,” Romesha said Tuesday. “Eight of my friends didn’t have that good fortune.”
Romesha repeated each one of their names as he spoke at a Pentagon ceremony inducting him into the Defense Department’s “Hall of Heroes” that lists the recipients of the Medal of Honor.
His voice cracked as he recited the names of those who fell in defending Combat Outpost Keating in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, on Oct. 3, 2009: Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos, Spc. Christopher T. Griffin, Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt, Sgt. Joshua J. Kirk, Spc. Stephen L. Mace, Staff Sgt. Vernon W. Martin, Sgt. Michael P. Scusa, and Pfc. Kevin C. Thomson.
“Those aren’t just names,” Romesha said. They were “some of the best troops” the Army ever had. “And they were my friends.” He gestured to the medal draped round his neck: “I will wear it with dignity in their honor.”
At the White House on Monday, President Obama said that Romesha and his buddies formed an unbeatable “band of brothers” in Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta misspoke briefly at the beginning of his remarks, referring to Romesha and previous recipients as “winners” of the medal. The Medal of Honor Society frowns on use of the term “winning” in discussing the award, as though the battlefield were a sports event.
Panetta recovered quickly, saying that Romesha was emblematic of America’s youth who volunteered to serve after 9/11 to endure “repeated deployments, time and again.” Despite seeing comrades “horribly maimed and, yes, killed,” the troops “day after day, strapped on their armor and went back on patrol.”
“For 10 years, they have fought because they believed America was worth fighting for,” Panetta said.
It was to that community of post-9/11 servicemembers, and to the soldiers of Bravo Troop, that Romesha addressed his remarks.
“To my brothers and sisters in arms,” Romesha started. Combat Outpost Keating, surrounded on three sides by the foothills of Hindu Kush, wasn’t much but it was the place that Bravo Troop “called home,” Romesha said. “It was our home and they simply couldn’t have it,” Romesha said of the Taliban enemy.
There were 52 other Americans in COP Keating and they were up against an estimated 400 enemy, Romesha said. “Just doesn’t seem fair to the Taliban,” Romesha said with a laugh.
In the Pentagon auditorium, Romesha singled out 11 of his comrades who survived the battle. He asked them to “stand, be recognized” and told them: “It is on your behalf I stand before you today as just a regular grunt. Thank you, brothers, thanks for everything. You are the strength of our nation.”
Romesha, 31, has returned to civilian life. He and his wife, Tamara, and their three children now live in Minot, N.D., where he works as a safety specialist in the oil fields. He wore his Army dress uniform for the ceremony.
“In the years to come,” Romesha said, “I just hope and pray that you’ll view me as truly worthy of this reward,” he said of the Medal. “Know this, whether I wear this uniform or civilian clothes, I am, and always will be, a soldier for life.”