JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter is about to become a household name. Because of his conspicuous gallantry on the battlefield in Afghanistan, he is one of the handful of living American soldiers to receive the nation’s highest military honor.
Now assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Carter insists the real honor belongs to the eight soldiers who did not make it home to see their families following the final attack on their position at Combat Outpost Keating on Oct. 3, 2009.
“I don’t think it’s for me,” he said in an exclusive interview with The News Tribune. “It’s for everybody in the unit who sacrificed and held their own, the soldiers that gave their lives for us to be here today. They and their families deserve it.”
The White House on Friday announced that Carter, 33, would become the fifth living military service member to receive a Medal of Honor from the Afghanistan-Iraq era. He’ll receive the medal at the White House on Aug. 26.
According to the Army narrative of the assault, Carter’s role stood among the many acts of heroism and sacrifice that day when he repeatedly exposed himself to intense enemy fire and pulled a badly wounded comrade to cover.
He will be the second soldier from the assault on Combat Outpost Keating to receive the medal. The first, former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, was awarded his at a White House ceremony in February.
“It’s an incredible privilege,” said Carter, a former Marine from Spokane who enlisted in the Army in 2008. He was serving with Black Knight Troop of the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Carson, Colo. at the time of the infamous attack.
Carter now serves with 7th Infantry Division at Lewis-McChord. He has returned to Afghanistan since the 2009 fight, last serving there with Lewis-McChord’s 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division for six months in Kandahar Province in 2012. He got home from that Stryker brigade mission in time to catch the birth of his daughter eight months ago.
Carter lives in the South Sound with his wife, Shannon, and three children, Jayden, Madison and Sehara. He intends to remain in the Army until he retires.
He feels close to his “blood brothers” from combat. He gives credit to the noncommissioned officer who stood by him when Carter started to show signs of post-traumatic stress after the attack on COP Keating.
He continues to receive treatment at Lewis-McChord for the invisible wounds of war. He thanks former 1st Sgt. Jonathan Hill for steering him in that direction and behavioral health therapist Katie Kopp for following through when he needed help.
“I really am in awe of all these people who have done everything they could to put me where I am today,” he said.
His wife also plays a vital role in keeping him going. They met after the Army moved him to Lewis-McChord in 2010. He told her he had PTSD, and “she loves me anyway.”
His role in the military once he receives his medal will be to represent the Army, motivate other soldiers and share his story.
He has a role model in Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry of Steilacoom. Petry, from Lewis-McChord’s 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, received a Medal of Honor in 2011 for heroism in Afghanistan. Petry continues to serve in the Ranger Regiment.
Petry and Carter have already talked. Carter called the meetings “excellent for me and my family.”
The actions that earned recognition for both Carter and Romesha took place against a seemingly overwhelming attack from a force of more than 400 Afghan fighters on an isolated American position at the bottom of a bowl-shaped valley in remote Nuristan Province.
In the course of the 12-hour fight in northeast Afghanistan, enemy fighters would breach the wire of Combat Outpost Keating. Twenty five of the 54 U.S. soldiers in the battle survived wounds. Eight others lost their lives.
The enemy hit just before 6 a.m. Their machine gunfire and rocket propelled grenades seemed to rain down on the outpost.
“The amount of firepower incoming and outgoing can’t be explained,” Carter said. “All we could do was dig in and fight to the death.”
“All you could do was dig in and save your brother,” he said.
The soldier he pulled to cover, Spc. Stephen Mace, made it through the day but later died of his wounds. Carter said he is comforted knowing that Mace received his last rites and died knowing his fellow soldiers were getting him to safety.
Still, Mace’s death is one of the events that haunts Carter.
“We failed to get him in time. That dramatically affected me,” he said.
The attack on COP Keating is among the most well-documented of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. CNN reporter Jake Tapper detailed it in his book, “The Outpost.”
Through all the press, Carter says he wants to change one common perception of the outpost — that it was indefensible from the time it was built in 2006 because of the imposing local geography.
American commanders wanted to close it down before the attack, as Tapper’s book shows. The U.S. military leveled it after bringing home Carter’s troop. In doing so, the military killed one of the primary insurgent leaders of that province.
Carter says it’s “inaccurate” to call COP Keating “indefensible.”
“The members of Black Knight troop and the aviation assets did defend it. We were able to win the day against a force eight times our size,” he said.
He remembers elation and sadness afterward as helicopter teams brought Black Knight Troop out of the outpost for good.
“After the firefight, when we got on the bird for the last time, there was a sense of closure, and there was mild cheering,” he said.
“Then it got real quiet because of what we had lost. We won the day, but we lost good men.”