I suppose there was part of me who thought once I got over the initial nervousness of being at the White House today for the Medal of Honor presentation to United States Army Staff Sergeant Ty M. Carter for his heroism during the Battle of Kamdesh at Combat Outpost Keating on October 3, 2009 by President Barack Obama, I’d be able to easily write about my experience.
I wish that were the case. Today was an absolutely amazing experience. I’m feeling quite a bit overwhelmed by the experience, but in a very different way than the jitters I felt while I was sitting in Lafayette Park across from the White House this morning at 11:30 calming myself for walking up to the visitors’ gate and saying, “I’m supposed to be here.”
To best relate what I saw and experienced today, I have to start at the end.
After I had a delicious dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill across from the Treasury Department building, I strolled back down Pennsylvania Avenue to take one last look at a building from this day forth I’ll never look at again with the eye of a tourist.
As I was leaving the grounds around 4:30 this afternoon, I took one last picture looking back at the North Portico. Just minutes before, I had been sitting in one of the 49 seats in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing of the White House. I probably could have sat there for hours, just soaking it in.
Before that, I was present for Press Secretary Jay Carney’s daily briefing. It never occurred really to me until the end to raise my hand with a question. I probably thought, “What’s the point, he won’t call on me.”; but the opposite attitude is what I should have had since taking a chance is what got me in that room in the first place.
Arriving at the White House was actually a pleasant experience. I was waiting with two BBC reporters (apologies, didn’t get their names) for a press office escort to arrive. If you’re not White House permanent credentialed, you have to be escorted. Going through security was certainly easier than getting into the secure area of an airport if you can believe it, but then, anybody coming to the White House is pre-cleared and screened. The TSA could learn well from the Uniformed Division of the United States Secret Service!
As we were about to head for the press area of the West Wing, we picked up a fourth escortee. He was a photographer for Scripps-Howard named Gavin Stern. Not only was it his first day ever at the White House, it was also his first day on the job! That went a long, long way to making me feel at ease, especially since he was there for his livelihood and I for just a labor of love.
You’d be amazed at how small and confined the press area at the White House is. The people who work there on a day in, day out basis don’t seem to mind though. Good thing they keep the air conditioning pumping throughout the space, else it would get real confining real quick.
At the appointed time of 1:45 PM, the press who were going to go to the East Room for the Medal of Honor presentation, myself included, assembled outside the press area and were led through the North Portico door and into the East Room. The East Room is certainly a large space, but still felt small for the setting.
I picked myself a vantage point right in front of one of the banks of TV cameras. Guest chairs were in front of me, and I had a clear view right to the stage and podium, which was no more than 20 or 25 feet in front of me.
This morning, I had predicted that I’d probably risk losing control of my emotions when Staff Sergeant Carter’s citation was read, but the moment he and the President were announced, followed by “Ruffles and Flourishes” and “Hail to the Chief”, I had to wipe real tears out of my eyes. The amount of national pride I had at that moment, coupled with the still surreal twist of fate that put me in that spot at that moment, made me feel so incredibly blessed.
I thought President Obama spoke reasonably eloquently and from the heart. And for the record, he was TelePrompTer-less. I can and will not question his sincerity at the occasion. It wasn’t a day for politics to me – nor would it have been had I been picked to ask a question at the press briefing later (what I would have asked, concerning the lack of valor recognition for Captain William Swenson at the Battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan thus far, could be considered controversial but not strictly political).
I was able to capture my own video via my iPhone of the reading of SSG Carter’s citation and of the President placing our nation’s highest honor around his neck. I’ll have the video up on YouTube as soon as I can enhance the audio level as it’s a bit quiet. For now, here is the citation (it reflects his rank at the time of the battle, not presently):
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Specialist Ty M. Carter, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
Specialist Ty M. Carter distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Scout with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3, 2009.
On that morning, Specialist Carter and his comrades awakened to an attack of an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of Combat Outpost Keating, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire.
Specialist Carter reinforced a forward battle position, ran twice through a 100-meter gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply ammunition, and voluntarily remained there to defend the isolated position. Armed with only an M4 carbine rifle, Specialist Carter placed accurate, deadly fire on the enemy, beating back the assault force and preventing the position from being overrun over the course of several hours. With complete disregard for his own safety and in spite of his own wounds, he ran through a hail of enemy rocket propelled grenade and machine gunfire to rescue a critically wounded comrade who had been pinned down in an exposed position. Specialist Carter rendered life-extending first aid and carried the soldier to cover.
On his own initiative, Specialist Carter again maneuvered through enemy fire to check on a fallen soldier and recovered the squad’s radio, which allowed them to coordinate their evacuation with fellow Soldiers. With teammates providing covering fire, Specialist Carter assisted in moving the wounded soldier 100 meters through withering enemy fire to the aid station and before returning to the fight.
Specialist Carter’s heroic actions and tactical skill were critical to the defense of Combat Outpost Keating, preventing the enemy from capturing the position and saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. Specialist Ty M. Carter’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army.
I also video recorded Staff Sergeant Carter’s personal statement to the press and the nation. That’ll go up on YouTube as well. The video is great – I was in the front row – but also needs some help with the audio.
I’m looking forward to talking about this later tonight on my Internet radio show, and of course, will be writing more as I decompress after a truly incredible day and am able to put the history I witnessed in some more perspective. I also have a lot of photos to go through and figure out who some of the notables in them are.
To everybody who interacted with me via social media today and offered words of encouragement, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I’ll have a more extensive “thank you” later, but for now I’d just like to express my sincere appreciation and attitude to the press office staff at the White House who thought there’d be value in me being there. As best as I could tell, I was the only “new media” person there, and that’s just amazing in of itself.
“Just a blogger” – and damn proud of it.