Odierno Lauds Romesha at Hall of Heroes Induction
By C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2013 The Army’s top leaders joined Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta yesterday for the induction of former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
At a White House ceremony the previous day, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Romesha for his battlefield gallantry in Afghanistan.
Army Secretary John M. McHugh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler were on hand as Romesha joined the rolls of all Medal of Honor recipients whose names and memories are enshrined in the Hall of Heroes.
"Today as we induct Staff Sergeant Romesha into the famed Hall of Heroes, he joins the rare fraternity of military service members in the Medal of Honor Society,” Odierno said. "They have demonstrated uncommon valor and extraordinary courage under fire."
"Of being awarded the nation's highest military decoration,” the general continued, “Staff Sergeant Romesha said, 'This medal isn't for me. The medal is for all the great things the platoon and the troops did that day.' His humility, honor, leadership, integrity, personal courage and selfless service represent what is best about our soldiers and our Army."
Romesha is the fourth living service member to receive the medal for either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. The soldier earned the medal for actions Oct. 3, 2009, at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan. On that morning, Combat Outpost Keating, manned by only 53 soldiers and situated at the bottom of a steep valley, came under attack by as many as 400 Taliban fighters.
During the fight, the enemy breached the outpost’s perimeter. Romesha, who was injured in the battle, led the fight to protect the bodies of fallen soldiers, provide cover to those soldiers seeking medical assistance, and reclaim the American outpost that would later be deemed "tactically indefensible."
Odierno told those in attendance that Romesha embodies "the essence of a soldier" and that he represents what every soldier strives to be: "an individual who has earned the trust of all he associates with, one who possesses humility and selflessness that we all respect, [and] one who embraces esprit de corps and routinely demonstrates a dedication to his profession, with moral and physical courage that epitomizes the ethos of the American soldier."
After senior leaders spoke, Romesha and his wife, Tammy, were asked to step forward. Romesha was presented with a frame containing both his picture and a copy of his Medal of Honor citation. He and his wife then revealed the board that now contains his name alongside the names of other medal recipients from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. That board will be placed in the Hall of Heroes.
Afterward, Romesha was able to address those in attendance at the ceremony.
"Nearly 400 Taliban fighters surrounded the place me and 52 other members of Bravo Troop 3-61 Cavalry called home," Romesha said. "Four hundred Taliban versus 53 American soldiers: it just doesn't seem fair … for the Taliban."
The normally shy Romesha drew a laugh from the crowd, during what had previously been a more solemn ceremony. But then he turned again to something very serious for him: the friends he lost in Afghanistan in 2009.
"It was our home, and they simply couldn't have it," he said of Combat Outpost Keating. "But you know, the Medal of Honor is not often given when things went well on the battlefield. It tends to come at a price, and heroes are often revealed. Some say I am a hero. But it doesn't make sense, because I got to come home with few scars.
“Eight of my friends did not have that fortune,” he continued. “Eight of my brothers fought to survive for a place we had called home. And more importantly, they fought for their comrades. And in the end, they gave their lives in their defense. Those eight amazing men, they are the real heroes."
Those who died in the fighting that day were Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, Sgt. Christopher Griffin, Sgt. Joshua Hardt, Sgt. Joshua Kirk, Spc. Stephan Mace, Staff Sgt. Vernon Martin, Sgt. Michael Scusa, and Pfc. Kevin Thomson.
"These aren't just names. They are some of the best troops, and my friends," Romesha said.
With the Medal of Honor around his neck, and in a uniform he no longer needs to wear because he is now a civilian, he told those in attendance and the other Medal of Honor recipients that he would not let them down.
"I will wear it with dignity and humility, in their honor," he said of the medal around his neck. "I vow to respect their memories and carry each of them in my heart for the rest of my life. It is on their behalf that I stand before you today as just a regular grunt.
"There was no shortage of heroism at COP Keating that day," he continued. "And I am honored that some of the heroes of COP Keating are here with me today."
He asked those other heroes, soldiers in the audience who had fought with him that day, to stand.
"Thank you brothers, thanks for everything," he said. "You are the strength of our nation."
The Army's latest hero finished his short remarks by saying he hopes he will always be able to make proud those who are the most important to him.
"I pray that God and my family will always be proud of me," he said. "And know this: whether I wear a uniform or civilian attire, I am and always will be a soldier for life."