Battling against the stigma
Combat Outpost Keating in the Kamdesh area of Afghanistan might as well be at the edge of the world, because that’s what it felt like four years ago when it started raining metal.
The 53 soldiers of Black Knight Troop were surrounded by 300 Taliban, who threw everything they had at them.
Ty Carter, then a scout with the 61st Cavalry Regiment, found himself pinned down in a Humvee with his sergeant, Brad Larson. One of their comrades, Specialist Stephan Mace, had fallen, hit by fire as they ran for cover. When dust spit up by the gunfire settled, they could see Mace, wincing in pain, just 30 yards away.
Carter’s instinct was to run to Mace, but Larson held him back, saying he’d be cut to shreds. They had to wait for the gunfire to subside.
“I could see Mace and he could see me,” Carter said. “It was almost like he was crying, but he couldn’t because he was so dehydrated.”
When Larson gave him the OK, Carter put his M4 rifle down, raced to Mace’s side, and put a tourniquet on his shredded leg. Then, as bullets whizzed by, Carter picked up Mace and carried him back to the Humvee.
They had no communication, so Carter ran into the fire again, this time looking for a radio. They established contact with Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha, whose team laid down covering fire while Carter and Larson carried Mace to the aid station.
Most of the outpost was on fire, and Carter defied death once more, running into the open, grabbing a chain saw, and cutting down a burning tree before it could engulf the aid station.
Eventually, the soldiers of Black Knight Troop beat back the attack, but at a devastating price: eight dead, 25 hurt.
And despite Carter’s heroics, Stephan Mace died. When they told Ty Carter they were going to give him the Medal of Honor last month, he felt undeserving. But Stephan Mace’s mother met him and hugged him and thanked him for saving her son.
“She told me that when he was lying out there, and we couldn’t get to him, he thought he was going to die alone. When we got him back to the aid station, they gave him transfusions and he was coherent. He got the last rites. She said he had eight or nine hours with his friends. She said I saved him because he died at peace.”
Ty Carter insists that nine men were mortally wounded that day in Afghanistan. The ninth was Pvt. Ed Faulkner, who helped save them from enemy fire. A year after coming home from Afghanistan, Faulkner died in the throes of an addiction that Carter says was one of the legacies of hellish battle.
“Faulkner had been injured in Iraq and didn’t get the treatment he needed,” Carter said. “The post-traumatic stress ate him up.”
It is part of the Soldier’s Creed to leave no comrade behind, and Ty Carter didn’t leave Stephan Mace behind on the battlefield, and he didn’t leave Ed Faulkner behind when Faulkner fell on this side of the battlefield.
Staff Sgt. Ty Carter asked the Army to deploy him again, this time on these shores, to tell his story, that even he, a Medal of Honor recipient, needed help for post-traumatic stress. That’s why he was in Boston on Monday, meeting with the staff at Home Base, the program run by Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox that treats the invisible wounds of war.
He is fighting an enemy more insidious than the Taliban: stigma.
‘’My goal is to remove the D from PTSD,” he said. “It’s not a disorder. It’s a normal human reaction to trauma. We have to do better by our warriors.”
Ty Carter has the mettle of honor. He continues to save his brothers and sisters in arms, by telling them it’s OK to hurt but that it’s imperative to get help.
There’s no medal for that, but there should be.
Kevin Cullen is a columnist for The Boston Globe.