The 34-year-old veteran vividly recalled his comrades’ battle cry: “We’re going to take this bitch back!” Clint Romesha became a legend in 2009 after he led the charge against a monstrous Taliban attack in Afghanistan, rallying his fellow soldiers to regain control of their camp after it had been overrun by more than 300 insurgents.
President Obama presented him with the Medal of Honor for his actions in that battle in 2013.
Romesha was a green 18-year-old who had grown up in Lake City, Calif. — “a quiet little town [where] life was always easy” — when he enlisted in the Army in 1999. But he became an experienced warrior, serving in Kosovo and Iraq before volunteering to serve in Afghanistan in his fourth tour of duty.
He said he went from “growing up in one of the greatest countries that has ever existed, to see what tyranny and poverty and real challenges are like firsthand.”
On Oct. 3, 2009, Romesha was a staff sergeant and section leader when the Taliban attacked Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan.
The camp, he recalled, was strategically flawed, “set at the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains on every side. Very isolated, very remote, just a spot that you shake your head when you see it, but you also accept the mission that’s given and understand that you’re there doing a job and you got your great guys around you.”
He said the attack, known today as the Battle of Kamdesh, began at around 6 a.m., and he realized quickly that it wasn’t the typical gunfire he’d come to expect from the Taliban.
“I remember getting out of my bed…. [I] got up and clicked on the radio, and you could just hear the intensity of fire coming…. This was something different, and very clearly thereafter, you could tell that there’s more fire coming into the outpost than going out of it.”
The enemy fighters had “done the research,” Romesha said. “They instantly started suppressing our gun trucks on the perimeter…. They had us surrounded 360 degrees, and very quickly it was getting out of control.”
To their horror, the penned-in American troops learned they wouldn’t get helicopter support for some time, “and unfortunately, within that first hour, we’d finally gotten the word that the enemy was inside the wire.”
The attackers set the camp on fire, burning down most of the barracks, but Romesha and some troops were able to pull back in “the Alamo position” into buildings at the center of the outpost.
He said he realized they had to “do something drastic” — counterattack and reclaim the depot. “We need to take this bitch back,” he told Lt. Andrew Bundermann, the officer in charge.
Five soldiers volunteered to follow Romesha into a furious battle with the insurgents. They pushed them back and regained control of the base when air support finally arrived.
There were many heroes that day, Romesha said, including Bundermann, who called for dropping bombs just a hundred yards away, instead of waiting for precision bombs.
“Eight men never got to come home,” Romesha said. “I did…. They gave up way more than anything that was ever required of me. If it wasn’t for their sacrifice, I wouldn’t be here.”
Referring to his Medal of Honor, he said, “It’s great to be the one that got selected to wear it, but the medal’s not mine. It’s those eight great men, it’s those men and women that are still serving today, men and women that have put on the uniform from previous conflicts to keep this country free.”
Romesha has written “Red Platoon,” a book about his experiences, because he feels veterans should teach civilians to “appreciate the freedoms they wake up to every day, understand where that came from and what it cost to get that way, so that these guys are never forgotten.”
“We use the word hero quite a bit in this country,” he said. “We call people that throw footballs heroes. We call people that sang songs heroes. We call people that have reality TV shows heroes.
“My definition of a hero [is] those that don’t come home, that give up everything to make sure we’re free and safe. That’s what a true hero is right there. I appreciate the acknowledgements of it, but I was just a warrior doing a job.”
American Legends – Stories of soldiers who responded to a difficult conflict situation, and did everything they could to defeat the enemy and get their brothers home.