President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor Monday to former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha for leading the defense of a small American outpost in the mountains of Afghanistan. Romesha, who now works for an oil company in North Dakota, led a group of 53 American soldiers as they weathered a daylong assault from as many as 300 Taliban.
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration an American serviceman can be awarded and, as Obama told Romesha in the East Room of the White House, “reflects the gratitude of our entire country.”
Romesha was stationed at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province when, on Oct. 3, 2009, the small group came under attack from Taliban fighters armed with assault weapons and RPGs. USA Today reported the flimsy outpost was assembled from plywood and concrete and located in an especially dangerous area.
“To those Americans down below, the fire was coming from every single direction, they’d never seen anything like it,” Obama said. “These men were outnumbered, outgunned, and almost overrun.
“Our troops should not ever be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible," Obama said. "That's what these soldiers did for each other in sacrifice driven by pure love."
Eight U.S. soldiers were killed in the attack and 22 wounded, including Romesha, 31, who suffered shrapnel wounds. The veteran wept as the president spoke to the families of his fallen comrades.
“I'm feeling conflicted with this medal I now wear," Romesha told reporters after the ceremony. "The joy comes from recognition for us doing our jobs as soldiers on distant battlefields, but is countered by the constant reminder of the loss of our battle buddies, my battle buddies, my soldiers, my friends.
“I accept this tremendous honor on behalf of all soldiers who have served with me that day,” he continued. “This award is for the eight soldiers that didn't make it and for the rest of the team that fought valiantly and magnificently that day. I will forever be humbled by their bravery, their commitment to service and their loyalty to one another."
Romesha and his wife have three children. Colin, the youngest, had the somber crowd smiling by giddily running through the East Room before the president or Romesha entered, according to CBS. Obama described Romesha as a “pretty humble guy” whose award ceremony wouldn’t even be the biggest event of the week as he and his wife will celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary this week.