Army Sgt. 1st Class Ty Carter took his first and last pause during the Battle of Kamdesh right before running into a rain of machine gun fire.
”That’s when I told myself if it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go,” Carter said.
More than 300 Taliban insurgents opened fire Oct. 3, 2009, on American Combat Outpost Keating, where the Spokane native and North Central High School graduate was stationed. Carter’s actions that day earned him the USO George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award earlier this month.
The award came more than 10 years after Carter’s military career began, which itself came after some motherly advice.
When Carter was finishing up high school and wondering what he should do with his life, Paula Carter told him the military was the clear choice.
“You don’t like school,” she told him, “you like blowing up stuff, you like bodybuilding. I’m sorry, but I don’t get the question.”
After graduating 1998, he joined the Marine Corps, where he served for four years as an engineer. From there, he attended Pittsburg, Calif.-based Los Medanos College.
Carter joined the Army in 2008 and was stationed in Afghanistan.
On that day in 2009, Carter woke up to explosions and machine gun fire. A scout, he volunteered to deliver ammo to another platoon at the outpost. It meant running through an open area where his fellow soldiers had fallen.
“Standing still means pretty much death unless you have proper cover,” he said.
Carter made two trips to the platoon before being told to stay. His only protection was an Army Humvee surrounded by a few sandbags where he was with four other soldiers. Only he and one other survived.
Between delivering ammo and carrying his injured comrades to first aid, Carter exposed himself to enemy fire six times.
“On a day when everything goes wrong, I was able to do a few stupid things that made a difference to a lot of people,” he said.
Carter said that after two hours it seemed like the entire U.S. presence in Afghanistan was fighting at the Battle of Kamdesh. American aerial forces arrived, dropping fire on the insurgents. He said the helicopters were stacked one on top of another, one dropping their ammo before the other took over.
The fighting carried on for about 12 hours. Carter said his group lost all communication when the soldier with the radio was killed. He even considered the possibility that all other American troops had been killed when he saw the insurgents using American weapons.
“We were getting rained on,” he said. “If anyone stepped out and did anything they’d most likely get killed.”
In the end, 22 U.S. troops were wounded and eight were killed.
Family friend Beth White remembers Carter as a “skinny, stubborn” boy in high school. She also remembers the day she learned of the battle from an article she believed was about Carter’s unit. She called Carter’s mother to share her concerns.
The family later learned their son was safe. White said she next saw Carter in November of that year, about a month after the battle. She said he had a 1,000-yard stare of someone who could not quite express what he had seen.
“I don’t think anyone who went to school with him would have imagined Ty as he is now,” she said. “A lean and hard-headed teenage boy who did things his own way, who grew up to be a dedicated, respectful and strong war hero.”
Carter was honored for his actions Dec. 7 at the 50th USO Armed Forces Gala & Gold Medal dinner in New York. He said the experience was unique and shocking, even uncomfortable. But after his father explained to him that he was being honored for his actions, it put the award into a different perspective.
“It’s kind of like, after a while, you just don’t give yourself a choice,” said Carter, who is scheduled to be redeployed to Afghanistan next year. “I can either cower here in a bunker or I can do what needs to be done.”