WASHINGTON — President Obama awarded U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter the Medal of Honor on Monday for his heroics in a 2009 battle where he and 53 American troops fought back against some 300 Taliban fighters in a valley of the Afghanistan mountains.
Carter became the second soldier to be awarded the highest military commendation for his courageous action in the battle.
Earlier this year, Obama awarded Clinton Romesha, a former Army staff sergeant, the Medal of Honor for leading the defense of the plywood-and-concrete outpost known as Combat Outpost Keating. Eight U.S. soldiers would die in the fight for the outpost.
In honoring Carter and Romesha, it is the first time that two living recipients have received Medals of Honor for their gallantry in the same battle since Vietnam. Carter also became the fifth living U.S. servicemember of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to receive the honor.
"The outpost was being slammed from every direction," Obama said in the afternoon ceremony at the White House. "Machine gun fire, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar, sniper fire, it was chaos. The blizzard of bullets and steel into which Ty ran not once or twice, or even a few times, but perhaps 10 times. In doing so, he displayed the essence of true heroism."
Carter ran low and fast across an American outpost while overwhelming numbers of Taliban fighters closed in. He sprinted over ground where he could see bullets piercing the dust in front of him, gambling on getting ahead of the shooters' ability to target him.
Carter ran a gauntlet of heavy machine gun and sniper fire — carrying ammo, recovering a field radio, cradling a wounded comrade in his arms — sometimes zigzagging to dodge exploding rocket-propelled grenades or mortar rounds.
When he wasn't moving through enemy fire in the battle in 2009, Carter and another soldier made their stand in an all-but-shredded armored vehicle — a last defensive bastion in a far corner of the fort. Surrounded by dead Americans and running low on ammunition, they shot and killed enemy fighters breaching the walls.
"When good men are dying all around you, you have to decide what your last moments are going to be like," Carter told USA TODAY. "Are you going to die behind something, or are you going to die standing and firing? Are you going to die pushing forward or falling back?"
Obama also thanked Carter for speaking out about his battles with post-traumatic stress, and noted that Carter had urged him to remember another soldier, Ed Faulkner Jr., who fought alongside him that day. Faulker died in September 2010 after a fatal overdose of methadone and Xanax.
"Let me say it as clearly as I can to any of our troops and veterans who are struggling," Obama said. "Look at this man, look at this soldier, look at this warrior. He is as tough as they come and if he can find the courage and strength to not only seek help, but also speak about it … than so can you."
Contributing: Gregg Zoroya