President Barack Obama on Monday awarded former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha the Medal of Honor for actions taken in a 2009 firefight in Afghanistan.
Obama, at a ceremony in the White House's East Room, detailed the heroism Romesha displayed on Oct. 3, 2009: 300 Taliban fighters had descended upon 53 Americans at Army outpost Keating on the border of Pakistan under "almost unbelievable conditions," Obama said.
"That’s what these soldiers were asked to do—defend the indefensible," the president said of the outpost, which was situated at the bottom of a steep valley that left the soldiers open to attack.
"Explosions shook them out of their beds" that morning, Obama said, setting off "what’s been called one of the most intense battles of the entire war in Afghanistan."
Romesha sat, visibly emotional, as the president detailed that day, which Romesha has emphasized was a team effort.
The soldiers faced rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, grenades, mortars and snipers. Romesha took out an enemy machine gun team, sustained shrapnel injuries in his hip, neck and arm, and continued to fight and tend to members of his unit. Romesha took a "100-meter run through a hail of bullets," Obama said, to reach his "fallen friends."
He "continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire," read Romesha's award citation.
After the ceremony, Romesha told reporters at the White House that he received the award with "mixed emotions ... both joy and sadness."
"[I'm] feeling conflicted with this medal I now wear," he said, noting the loss of his "battle buddies."
Romesha added that "this is for the eight soldiers that did not make it" and for those who fought with him, and he thanked his wife, Tammy, for giving him the morale he needed while at war. "You are my rock," he said, directing the message to his wife into the television cameras.
Romesha and his family live in Minot, N.D.
The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who display "gallantry above and beyond the call of duty."
From the White House: "The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit."
U.S. presidents have awarded more than 3,400 medals since its creation in 1861.