Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter showed inspirational bravery four years ago when he repeatedly risked his life to rescue a wounded comrade and repel a fierce enemy attack in Afghanistan.
In his first appearance as a Medal of Honor recipient, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier said Monday that he hopes the honor he receives at the White House next month will motivate soldiers in another way: by persuading them to seek help for the post-traumatic stress that many combat veterans suffer.
He wants to “get rid of the stigma of post-traumatic stress because there are a lot of soldiers that have it but they’re ashamed to get the help,” he said at a news conference at Lewis-McChord.
The White House announced last week that Carter, 33, would receive the nation’s highest military honor at a ceremony Aug. 26. He will be just the fifth living military service member to receive the medal for “conspicuous gallantry” in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
That prestige gives Carter a rare megaphone in the military. The soldier now assigned to Lewis-McChord’s 7th Infantry Division showed Monday that he wants to use it to address the emotional and mental toll that a dozen years of war have taken. He first told his story in an interview with The News Tribune that published in Saturday’s paper.
“For me, the post-traumatic stress isn’t something that just disappears,” he said Monday.
Carter says he wouldn’t be here without the counseling he has pursued and the understanding of his wife, Shannon.
“I have my wife. She lets me know where I belong, if I’m off in my direction,” he said. “She makes sure I know my place, and that is by her side.”
She returned the appreciation. They met after the Army stationed him at Lewis-McChord in 2010 — after his heroics in October 2009.
“He blows my mind every single day,” she said.
Carter, a former Marine from Spokane, grew almost teary-eyed in front of reporters as he described a 12-hour battle in which 54 soldiers from his cavalry troop defended an isolated outpost in northeastern Afghanistan against some 400 enemy attackers.
Eight of Carter’s comrades lost their lives. Twenty-five more were wounded. The shooting grew so intense from enemy positions overlooking his position that bullets “looked like raindrops” as they kicked up dust and gravel inside Combat Outpost Keating.
His unit dug in and repelled the assault.
“At no point in time did we ever let it in our heads that we were going to give up or surrender,” Carter said. “We will fight until there’s no one left.”
He remains troubled by the moments in which he was pinned down inside a vehicle, unable to retrieve a wounded soldier.
“It’s very painful to see a good man suffer and not be able to go to him when you know you can save him,” Carter said.
His cavalry troop from Fort Carson, Colo., won the day, but Carter said that he and others struggled with their experiences from that battle. Ed Faulkner, a fellow soldier in Black Knight Troop, died of a drug overdose less than a year after his return.
Carter said he feels nervous about his Medal of Honor ceremony next month. To this day, he gets uncomfortable when he’s around families of soldiers who died at COP Keating.
“I feel embarrassed to be in their presence because they have lost so much,” he said.
He’s working on talking more openly about the attack, and he wants the recognition he’s receiving to honor the memories of the fallen soldiers.
When the limelight dims, he wants to roll up his sleeves and get to work in the Army units that care for wounded and ill soldiers. He thinks he’d play a valuable role in the so-called warrior transition units.
He would tell the soldiers there, “It’s not going to be easy, but you will improve. You will get better. You just need to get the help.”