Clinton Romesha: Courageous Action Saved the Lives of Soldiers

This latest post in our Medal of Honor series honors Clinton Romesha, the newest addition to our bravest and finest in our nation’s military annals.

Romesha, who served in the Army, was awarded the Medal of Honor on Feb. 11, 2013 for his courageous actions during one of the deadliest attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009. He is the fourth living recipient of the award from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Early Life

Medal of Honor Given to Romesha

Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor on Feb. 11, 2013 for his courageous actions on Oct. 3, 2009, in Afghanistan

Romesha (pronounced Row-ma-shay) was born in August 1981 in Cedarville, Calif. His father, Gary, is a Vietnam veteran and his grandfather, Aury Smith, was a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of Normandy.

Romesha grew up in Lake City, Calif. along with his three brothers and one sister. He often visited his grandfather at his ranch near Vya, Nev. and would listen to his stories of World War II. His grandfather nurtured him, telling Romesha to always do his best and to carry on the integrity of his family name. The memories of his grandfather are some of Romesha’s fondest.

When Romesha was in high school, he was attending a Mormon seminary to become a church leader, but instead of completing, he decided to enlist in the Army to carry on the family tradition of military service.

Military Service

Romesha enlisted in the Army in 1999 and completed Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Knox, Ky. He was trained as an armor crewman and was first assigned as a tank gunner in the 63rd Armor, 1st Infantry Division at Camp Vilseck, Germany. His next posting was in South Korea and lastly he was stationed in Fort Carson, Colo.

When Romesha arrived to the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea, he heard that one of his old noncommissioned officers had been killed in Iraq. Motivated by his mentor’s heroism and sacrifice, he volunteered to deploy to Iraq with another unit of the 2nd Infantry Division that had orders to go there.

His change of station to Fort Carson and the 4th Infantry Division also brought a change in specialty — reconnaissance scout. Romesha enjoyed the change of pace.

“I liked being light,” he remembered. “I liked being fast. I liked observing and kind of being the silent overwatch that no one knows is there.”

Sgt. Thomas Rasmussen, who served under Romesha in both Iraq and Afghanistan, recalled that Romesha enjoyed leading and teaching his younger troops. He was the best non-commissioned officer he ever had — he was tough and demanding, but was always fair. Romesha wasn’t all seriousness, though. His quirky, at times dark, sense of humor often appeared.

“He’s always the one making stupid jokes,” Rasmussen said, “or pissing off a lieutenant just to make everyone else laugh, or getting on somebody’s nerves just to lighten the mood or cracking jokes at the most inopportune times.”

In May 2009, Romesha deployed to Afghanistan and was assigned to Combat Outpost Keating, a collection of concrete and plywood buildings with trenches and sandbags. COP Keating was among the most remote of the coalition outposts in Eastern Afghanistan. It sat at the bottom of a steep valley and the surrounding mountains gave ideal cover for insurgents to attack.

“COP Keating… was tactically indefensible,” President Obama said during Romesha’s award ceremony. “But that’s what these soldiers were asked to do — defend the indefensible.”

Medal of Honor Action

Romesha is Medal of Honor Recipient

Romesha and his troops awoke to the barrage of fire from a superior enemy force. He continuously risked his life throughout the battle to ensure the lives of his men and to repel the insurgents.

On the morning of Oct. 3, 2009, Romesha and his comrades awoke to the booms of enemy exploding ordinance. On the mountains above, about 300 enemy fighters surrounded COP Keating and were pelting it with concentrated fire from rifles, RPGs, heavy machine guns, mortars and small arms.

Exposed and under heavy enemy fire, Romesha dashed to one of the camp’s surveillance vehicles to make sure that it was positioned in the right spot to engage the insurgents with its grenade launcher. He then made his way to the barracks to grab an MK-48 machine gun and an assistant gunner so that he could engage the enemy.

He and the assistant gunner, Justin Gregory, took cover behind a generator and immediately engaged a machine gun team that was to the west of the compound. After those fighters were eliminated they took on a second machine gun team. As Romesha and Gregory fired upon the second group an explosion knocked Romesha onto his assistant. An RPG had struck the generator wounding Romesha, but he ignored his wounds and continued to fire his weapon at the enemy.

When another soldier arrived to Romesha’s position, he made his way back to the barracks to mobilize more troops and to grab an Afghan sniper rifle. With only limited knowledge of the weapon he began to fire at multiple enemy positions, while continuing to expose himself to enemy fire. He even killed three Taliban fighters who had breached the combat outpost’s perimeter.

Throughout the fight Romesha conducted a successful plan to secure key areas of the battlefield — an ammo supply point and an entry control point. He also received reports of injured soldiers at another surveillance vehicle nearby and at a risk to himself he provided cover fire so that they could retreat to safety. He also prevented the enemy from grabbing the bodies of fallen American soldiers. All the while Romesha fed grid coordinates of the enemy to the tactical operations center which allowed mortars and air support to hit the enemy locations.

Romesha’s heroic actions throughout the day-long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers. His extraordinary efforts gave the coalition forces the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counterattack that allowed them to account for their personnel and secure COP Keating.

Romesha separated from the Army in 2011 in order to spend more time with his wife and three children. They moved to Minot, N.D. where he now works in the oil industry and restores a 100-year-old house that he and his family call home.

Photos courtesy U.S. Army and North Dakota National Guard