A former U.S. Army staff sergeant now living in Minot was presented the nation's highest military honor by President Obama Monday in a White House ceremony.
The president placed the Medal of Honor attached to a blue ribbon around Clint Romesha's neck. Romesha's wife, Tammy, and their children, Dessi, Gwen and Colin, watched nearby.
The ceremony also honored other members of Romesha's unit, Bravo Troop, including the eight soldiers who died in the Oct. 3, 2009, battle at Outpost Keating in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama bestows the Medal of Honor on retired Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha for conspicuous gallantry, Monday in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
Obama pointed out the Medal of Honor is this nation's highest military honor. "It reflects the gratitude of our entire country," he said.
"Despite all of this attention, you might have a sense Clint is a pretty humble guy," the president said to the group gathered for the ceremony including other Romesha family members, families of the eight fallen soldiers, members of Congress and armed forces leaders.
He said Romesha grew up in Lake City, Calif., with a population less than 100.
"These days Clint works in the oil fields in North Dakota," Obama said. Romesha works for KS Industries, an oil-field construction company based in Tioga.
After more than a decade in uniform, Obama said Romesha says the thing he looks forward to the most is just being a husband and father.
"In fact, this is not even the biggest event for Clint this week because tomorrow (Tuesday) he and his wife, Tammy, will celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary. Clint and Tammy, this is probably not the kind of intimate anniversary you planned but we're so glad you're here along with your three beautiful children, Dessi, Gwen and Colin," Obama said.
The president noted the Romeshas' young son, Colin, is not shy. Colin had been racing around in the Oval Office before the ceremony and also sampling some apples before he found the one he wanted, the president said.
Obama told the group that for people to truly understand the extraordinary actions for which Romesha was being honored, people need to understand the almost unbelievable conditions under which he and members of B Troop served.
He said this was a time in 2009 when U.S. troops still served in small, rugged outposts, even as commanders were shifting their focus to larger towns and cities. He said Combat Outpost Keating was a collection of buildings of concrete and plywood with trenches and sandbags.
"Of all the outposts in Afghanistan, Keating was the most remote," he said. He said it sat at the bottom of a steep valley surrounded by mountains, terrain that an investigation said gave ideal cover for insurgents to attack.
He said an investigation found that Keating was tactically indefensible. "That's what these soldiers were asked to do defend the indefensible," Obama said.
The president explained the attack in detail from its start in the early morning when some of the soldiers were standing guard and like Romesha, were still sleeping. "The explosion shook them out of their beds and sent them rushing for their weapons. And soon the awful odds became clear. These 53 Americans were surrounded by more than 300 Taliban fighters," he said.
What happened next has been described as one of the most intense battles in the entire war in Afghanistan. He said the attackers had the advantage the high ground and they were unleashing everything they had rocket propelled grenades, machine guns, mortars, snipers taking aim.
"To those Americans down below, fire was coming in every direction," he said.
The president continued the explanation of the battle and Romesha's part in it, including Romesha leading the team, to retake that camp when the Taliban were overrunning it. The U.S. soldiers also made sure to reach their fallen friends to bring them home.
Obama said that throughout history it is often asked why do those in uniform take such extraordinary risks and what compels them to such courage. "You ask Clint and any of these soldiers who are here today and they'll tell you: 'Yes, they fight for their country, they fight for our freedom. Yes, they fight to come home to their families. Most of all, they fight for each other to keep each other safe and to have each other's backs."
Obama said when he called Romesha to tell him he was going to receive the Medal of Honor, Romesha told him he was honored. "He also said, 'It wasn't just me out there, it was a team effort. So today we honor this American team, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice," naming the eight soldiers who had died.
The soldiers of the troop have been honored with numerous medals including 37 Army Commendation Medals, 27 Purple Hearts, 18 Bronze Stars and nine Silver Stars.
Obama recognized the soldiers from the unit, asking them to stand and "accept the gratitude of our entire nation."
Obama said a lesson learned from Outpost Keating is U.S. troops should never be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible. But, he said, these soldiers did and also brought home their fallen comrades.
Before the Medal of Honor citation was read, Obama related Romesha's words:
"We weren't going to be beat that day, we're not going to back down in the face of adversity like that. We were just going to win, plain and simple."
Gov. Jack Dalrymple congratulated Romesha on receiving the Medal of Honor. He said, "Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha is a true American hero and today we honor him for receiving this nation's highest military distinction for his heroic actions while serving in Afghanistan.
"We are grateful to Staff Sgt. Romesha for his heroism and sacrifice that day and for his distinguished service to our state and nation. We salute him for receiving this prestigious recognition and for his outstanding contributions in the defense of our homeland and our way of life."
In a joint news release, North Dakota's congressional delegation Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also congratulated Romesha. "Staff Sgt. Romesha went above and beyond the call of duty that day in Afghanistan," they said.
Today, Romesha will be inducted in the Medal of Honor Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon.