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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published January 16 2013

ND Medal of Honor soldier shares praise with his platoon

MINOT, N.D. - The North Dakota oilfield worker who will become the nation’s newest Medal of Honor recipient next month in Washington said Wednesday that it’s not about him.

“For me, this isn’t for me, it’s for all the great things the platoon and the troops did that day,” Ret. Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha said at a news conference Wednesday in Minot.

Romseha, 31, and his wife, Tammy, and their three children moved to Minot after he retired from the Army in 2011. He served 12 years, including two combat deployments to Iraq and one in 2009 to Afghanistan. It was his heroic actions during a 13-hour firefight at Combat Outpost Keating on Oct. 3, 2009, that led President Barack Obama to call him around Thanksgiving and tell him he would be getting the Medal of Honor.

Romesha, who grew up in tiny Lake City, Calif.., said it was a unique phone call.

“I was a little star-struck,” he said. “I can’t remember the exact phrases. . . He congratulated me and I thanked him.”

He will receive the Medal of Honor — only the 11th awarded since the fighting began in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002 and only the fourth to a living soldier — Feb. 11 in the White House.

According to news accounts, the citation says Romesha helped save many lives and kept the outpost from being overrun.

Set low in a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides, the outpost was vulnerable to attack from enemy Taliban who could fire down from the mountain sides, Romesha said.

“Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight and upon the arrival of another soldier to aid him and the assistant gunner, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers,” the citation says.

“With complete disregard for his own safety, (he) continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets.”

Romesha’s actions are featured in a new book by Washington journalist Jake Tapper, “The Outpost,” which describes Romesha’s bravery under fire, smiling while dodging a sniper’s bullets, braving enemy fire to rescue wounded comrades and to carry back the bodies of the eight soldiers killed that day. He was wounded with shrapnel when a Taliban soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade toward him, hitting a generator he was ducking behind.

Romesha was a section leader in the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team’s 61st Cavalry Regiment.

He was part of a contingent of 53 American troops, two Latvian soldiers and about 20 Afghan soldiers manning the small outpost in northeastern Afghanistan, only 14 miles from the Pakistan border. When more than 300 enemy Taliban troops attacked that day, the 20 Aghan soldiers melted away, Romesha said.

At times, Taliban fighters overran the outpost and other soldiers said Romesha’s actions inspired the American troops to withstand the withering fire.

On Wednesday, Romesha in his wry, understated way admitted the chaos of war got face-to-face dangerous, in his matter-of-fact way: “At certain times, we did have engagements that were fairly close.”

Others said Romesha grabbed a machine gun from another soldier, told him to get more ammo “and follow me.”

His actions over the next hours kept disaster at bay, according to Tapper and other accounts of the battle. He radioed in air support to knock out a force of 30 Taliban.

On Wednesday, Romesha kept deflecting any praise, saying that other soldiers sacrificed as much or more than he did.

“This isn’t something you wake up and think you are ever going to achieve,” he said of the rare honor being bestowed on him. “My grandfather was my hero. My grandfather was always teaching me that your actions will speak louder than words.”