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Army Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter speaks to the media as he holds his Medal of Honor outside the West Wing of the White House on Aug. 26. Carter is the fifth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
By his own admission, Staff Sgt. Ty Carter had trouble fitting in when he first arrived at Black Knight Troop.
He was too serious, “socially clueless” and intent on befriending the other soldiers by asking them questions such as “if the sky fell, would we be taller?”
Some soldiers answered him, while others rolled their eyes or wondered why he’d “ask such a stupid question,” he said.
His wife, Shannon, “is always telling me to loosen up. If she was around [then], I’d be Mr. Popularity, but instead, I was Mr. Wheat Bread,” Carter said during a speech that was both funny and poignant during a ceremony Tuesday at the Pentagon.
Carter, of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, received the Medal of Honor from President Obama on Monday. On Tuesday, the soldier, 33, was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
Carter is one of two soldiers honored for their actions during the fierce October 2009 battle at Combat Outpost Keating, Afghanistan. He and former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha are the first two surviving soldiers since the Vietnam War to receive the nation’s highest award for valor for actions in the same battle.
On the morning of Oct. 3, 2009, Carter said during his speech, “the sky fell.”
“That morning I didn’t even have the time to put on the proper clothes,” he said. “I was in my PJs and body armor when I realized this wasn’t just harassing fire.”
He and his fellow soldiers “quickly felt the weight of a Taliban force three to four times our size,” he said. “They seemed to know exactly what we would do, but they were wrong.”
His fellow soldiers fought back, and felt the “pure, untainted sense of brotherhood that the men and women of America’s Army feel for their battle buddies,” he said.
That bond shared by men and women who “face the impossible” is both a blessing and a curse, Carter said, choking back tears.
“I am blessed in the knowledge that for a few moments on a battlefield far from home, I connected with a young man,” he said, referring to Spc. Stephan Mace.
Carter is credited with braving enemy fire to reach a badly wounded Mace and carrying him to safety. Mace later died from his wounds.
“I am cursed by his voice, a voice that his mother will never hear again,” Carter said. “His face, a face that will never smile again. His blood, blood that will never fully wash away. Spc. Stephan Mace and I weren’t very close before the battle, but his cries, ‘help me, help me, please,’ today make me feel like I’ve known him forever. He needed me, a guy that most people didn’t really get. He trusted me.”
It didn’t matter that the two weren’t close, Carter said.
“I didn’t need to know anything else about him except he was suffering,” Carter said. “When his eyes met mine, we were family.”
One of his biggest regrets, Carter said, speaking to Mace’s mother, Vanessa Adelson, who was in the audience, is not being able to do more for her son.
“I’m sorry we were not able to bring your son home, to laugh with you and go hunting in South Africa with his best friend, and, of course, get more tattoos,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
The battle at COP Keating forever changed the men who fought there, Carter said.
“The toll was high,” he said. “Eight soldiers died there and another later. More than half of us were wounded, and almost everyone was left with deep, invisible wounds to their hearts and minds. These are the unlikely heroes of COP Keating. ... So if you ever ask, if the sky fell, would you get taller? The answer: ‘Hell, yes — I’m an American soldier.’”