Next month, Army Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter, 33, will add the nation’s highest military honor to a long list of decorations for fighting insurgents in one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghanistan war.
When President Barack Obama bestows the Medal of Honor on Carter on Aug. 26, Carter will be the second North Central High School graduate to earn the decoration and the second soldier this year to be decorated for service during the Battle of Kamdesh, a clash on Oct. 3, 2009, that left eight U.S. soldiers dead and 25 wounded. Carter told the News Tribune of Tacoma, near his current assignment as a noncommissioned officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his decoration belongs to their memory.
“I don’t think it’s for me,” he told the newspaper this week. “It’s for everybody in the unit who sacrificed and held their own, the soldiers that gave their lives for us to be here today. They and their families deserve it.”
Carter described the battle to The Spokesman-Review in an interview shortly after receiving the USO’s George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award in December 2011. As a cavalry scout at Command Post Keating, a military outpost at the bottom of a bowl-shaped valley in mountainous Nuristan province along the Pakistani border, Carter put himself in the line of fire multiple times when more than 400 insurgents opened fire from above beginning at dawn.
“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 in 2011. One of those people was Spc. Stephan Mace, wounded by rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire about 30 meters from where Carter and another soldier were pinned down behind a Humvee during the onslaught.
When Carter stated his intention to rescue Mace, his companion told him, “You’re no good to Mace if you’re dead.”
Carter dodged fire to reach Mace and carry him back to safety. Mace was flown out of the combat area but died of his wounds. Carter told the News Tribune in Tacoma the memory still haunts him, and he receives treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. But it comforts him to know Mace received his last rites.
“All you could do was dig in and save your brother,” he said.
Inspired by a similar creed, fellow North Central alumnus Bruce Alan Grandstaff, a 1952 graduate, called an artillery strike in on his own position to wipe out enemy combatants during the Vietnam War. His actions on May 18, 1967, earned him a posthumous award from President Richard Nixon two years later. A monument to Grandstaff stands at Greenwood Memorial Terrace cemetery, and Spokane’s veterans hospital was recently renamed partly in his honor.
At North Central, Carter was a determined hurdler on the track team, said his former coach and history teacher, Rick Havermann. He described Carter as self-aware and mature for his age, a leader by example whose actions in the military aren’t surprising.
“He was a self-made hurdler,” Havermann said. An image is etched in his mind of a 17-year-old Carter, teeth gritted in concentration and sweat dripping from the tip of his nose, insisting on remaining on the track to perfect the timing of his steps to clear the hurdles.
“He had this quiet, steady confidence,” Havermann said.
After graduating, Carter joined the Marines. In January 2008, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Afghanistan with the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment based in Fort Carson, Colo., when assigned to the Keating outpost.
Along with his wife, Shannon; three children, Jayden, Madison and Sehara; and other members of his family; Carter is invited to the White House for a decoration ceremony next month. It will make him the second U.S. soldier this year to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the Kamdesh battle. In February, Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, of California, was honored for his efforts to coordinate troop movements and call in airstrikes during the chaos.
In the 2011 S-R interview, Carter said during the latter half of the battle, which lasted around 12 hours, it seemed as though his squad was getting “rained on” by enemy fire.
“If anyone stepped out and did anything they’d most likely get killed,” he said. The base was abandoned after the attack and eventually destroyed, according to plans made before the battle.
His decoration will make Carter the eighth U.S. serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the war in Afghanistan. He will be the fifth living recipient from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the White House.