By 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2009, then-Spc. Ty Carter and then-Sgt. Bradley Larson were down to 50 rounds of ammunition, wounded, isolated, and trying to hold the southern flank of Outpost Keating.
President Barack Obama will award Carter the Medal of Honor Monday for his actions at Outpost Keating.
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The subject of Jake Tapper’s book The Outpost, Keating had been plagued by Taliban attacks in the months leading up to October 2009. Those were trials, meant to test the outpost’s weakest points. At 5:59 a.m. on Oct. 3, more than 300 Taliban flooded Keating from higher ground on all four sides. The Afghan troops stationed there fled, leaving about 50 Americans and a few Latvians.
A towering figure with a sober, mechanical demeanor (soldiers nicknamed him "Wheat Bread"), Carter emerged from the barracks with a bulletproof vest and the ammunition he had, then sprinted the length of a football field under fire so heavy it "looked like it was raining."
On Keating’s southern flank, Carter met up with other soldiers— including Larson, Staff Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos, and Spc. Stephan Mace—who took the ammo, but needed more, as well as lubricant for the weapons.
Carter sprinted back, under the same fire. "Everyone needs everything," he yelled upon arrival, and shot the locks off doors, before heading back to the position.
He returned to find the already bad conditions deteriorating fast. Larson, Gallegos, an already wounded Mace, and another soldier were taking cover in a Humvee, literally rocking back and forth from the assault.
Realizing the tenuous position, Carter and Larson volunteered to stay behind and provide cover for the others—but the assault proved too devastating. An RPG destroyed Mace’s legs. Gallegos was gunned down and killed instantly.
Just 30 feet away, but separated by enemy fire, Mace shouted for help, trying to crawl toward them on shattered legs.
"It felt like nails in the stomach and acid on the brain," Carter told the AP. "You have no idea what it feels like to watch a good man lie there in total pain, suffering. I knew that I could help him, I knew I could make it to him."
Carter was told to stand down. "You're no good to him dead," he was told.
After another round of fire directed at Mace, Carter insisted he had to try to help the soldier. He exposed himself to enemy fire and sprinted to the other man. Mace was in dire shape; beyond the severe injuries to his legs, blood was pooling in his abdomen, and he had gone into shock. Carter applied a tourniquet to his legs, put Mace in the Humvee they were crouched behind, and returned to Larson.
Gallegos was dead, Mace was dying, and Larson and Carter were picking off Taliban with M4s, neither with a full magazine, without a radio, and worried Keating had been overrun.
Carter went back into the open, on a declining grade, looking for anything that might help them.
"I never felt so alone in my life," Carter told Soldiers magazine this year. "It’s like even the grass blades were out to kill you."
He found Gallegos’ body, and determined that the staff sergeant was dead. But Gallegos’ radio was working. Carter returned to Larson’s position and they linked up with former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day in February of this year, and Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan G. Hill.
Romesha and Hill established enough cover fire for an attempted evacuation. Larson and Carter loaded Mace onto a stretcher and ran him 100 meters, under fire, delivering Mace to the aid station. Carter returned to fight, providing sniper cover as soldiers recovered fallen men. Despite extraordinary trauma care efforts (six soldiers, including the administering doctor, provided blood transfusions), Mace died later that day in surgery.
Mace’s mother told Soldiers Live that she was "overwhelmed with pride" that a second Keating soldier would receive the Medal of Honor—the one who rescued her son.
"I’m so grateful," she said. "Stephan could have died in the dirt."
In the wake of the event, Carter struggled mightily with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Normally unemotional, he would tear up when talking about the day.
"Just sitting in a bar listening to people talk causes me to clench my hands," he said in 2010. "So much stress over who is seeing who, or the traffic, or how a server got someone's coffee wrong. Guys causing fights over someone looking at their girlfriend wrong. Useless!"
Carter, who reenlisted and plans to stay in the military, credits the Army medical team with helping him restore his ability to function as a soldier and citizen.
"I didn't believe it was real until I experienced it," he told Tapper of PTSD. "I thought it was just an excuse to get out of duty … but once it hit me, and I realized it, I was blown away. How could I be so ignorant?"