On Monday, my wife’s brother and his family went to the White House. It wasn’t because they are well connected politically or wanted a tour. The reason for their going actually started on an October day in 2009.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 3, a small U.S. Army outpost in a remote valley in Afghanistan came under intense attack from Taliban fighters perched in the mountains overlooking the camp. Incoming fire hit the outpost from three directions. This was a large-scale attack intended to drive the Americans out and chalk up another Taliban victory.
The Taliban quickly gained the upper hand as their bullets and mortar shells riddled the camp. Several outpost buildings were burning. The Afghan soldiers attached to the outpost had fled or hid. Taliban soldiers had breached the perimeter of the camp and began to take various buildings.
The troops gathered at the operations center and discussed what to do. The lieutenant in command told them their job was to maintain the small part of the camp remaining under Army control. Staff Sargeant Clinton Romesha corrected him: Their job was to kick out the Taliban insurgents and take back their camp. The lieutenant allowed Romesha to lead a small group through the camp to engage the enemy who were outside the building. Romesha and his troops burst out of the building and dodged enemy fire as they moved through the camp searching for Taliban soldiers. They threw grenades in buildings and exchanged fire until they had killed or scared away the invading Taliban. Then, Romesha directed the F-15 pilots as they bombed Taliban positions.
The bodies of three soldiers killed in action were lying on the ground as the Taliban retreated. Romesha and the others worried the Taliban would cart them off as trophies. They weren’t going to allow that to happen. He led the others out in the open to retrieve the bodies of their comrades. Enemy fire from the mountains sprayed their position and one soldier had to use one of the corpses as cover.
While leading the counterattack, Romesha suffered from wounds he received early in the conflict. He and the other survivors fought for 12 hours straight before the Taliban finally withdrew. Eight of the 50 military personnel in the camp died that day. Another 22 were wounded.
On Monday, my brother-in-law and his family watched as President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to their son and brother, Clinton Romesha. Clinton would be the first to say that the medal isn’t just for him. It belongs to all the buddies he served with at the outpost, including those who died in that battle. “I was just doing a job,” Clinton later said. “It’s just what anyone would have done in that situation.”
But, of course, he was a hero. One of the surviving troops said: “I whole-heartedly believe he single-handedly saved the lives of everybody on that outpost. He took it upon himself to take [it] back.” There are heroes in our midst. In an age of rampant cynicism, it is good to remember that.
The war in Afghanistan may be seen as a forgotten war. It was overshadowed by the Iraq War. It doesn’t receive much news even today. But the longest conflict U.S. soldiers have fought in deserves our attention.
As U.S. involvement draws to a close, it is time to reflect on the service of hundreds of thousands of young men and women like Clinton who volunteered to serve in the armed forces to protect the United States of America and fought in Afghanistan. While there, just doing their jobs, they became our heroes.
Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU. Email: Richard_Davis@byu.edu.