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Feb 11, 2013 3:18 PM by Jake Tapper and Tom Cohen - CNN

Hero of ferocious Afghanistan battle gets Medal of Honor

Editor's note: Jake Tapper is an anchor and chief Washington correspondent for CNN. He is author of the best-selling book about the Combat Outpost Keating attack in Afghanistan, "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor."

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pinned down by mortar, machine-gun, rocket-propelled grenade and sniper fire from the surrounding mountains, Clint Romesha decided it was time to fight back.

Despite shrapnel wounds that put a hole in his shoulder, he led a small band of soldiers at a remote Afghanistan outpost in a series of counter-attacks that prevented Taliban insurgents from overrunning them.

For his "conspicuous gallantry ... at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty," the 31-year-old Romesha received the nation's highest military decoration -- the Medal of Honor -- at an emotional White House ceremony on Monday.

His eyes moistened and his lip trembled as Romesha acknowledged applause from an audience that included survivors from his Army unit and the families of the eight men killed in the October 3, 2009, assault on Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan.

In conferring the medal, President Barack Obama quoted the former Army staff sergeant's own words about what happened as the 53 soldiers at the outpost tried to "defend the indefensible."

"We weren't going to be beat that day," Obama quoted Keating as saying. "We're not going to back down in the face of adversity like that. We were just going to win, plain and simple."

Before the ceremony, the militaristic and somber atmosphere was lightened by Romesha's son, Colin, a toddler smartly dressed in suit and tie who climbed the podium and examined the lectern, briefly playing hide-and-seek with the bemused onlookers.

It took a military escort to entice Colin to his mother's arms in the first row, and when Obama spoke a few minutes later, he prompted chuckles in pointing out the boy's exuberant nature.

"Colin is not as shy as Clint," Obama said. "He was in the Oval Office and he was racing around pretty good and sampled a number of apples before he found the one that was just right."

On Tuesday, which is his 13th wedding anniversary, Romesha will be the guest of first lady Michelle Obama at the president's State of the Union address.

Romesha is the fourth living person to receive the nation's highest military decoration for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The combat outpost in a remote valley of the Hindu Kush mountain range left its inhabitants in what a military investigation later described as an indefensible position.

An estimated 300 insurgents launched their attack at dawn, and the battle raged for more than 12 hours. When it ended, with Romesha and others having held onto the outpost, more than half of their 53-soldier contingent had been killed or wounded.

Romesha was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade, but led counter-assaults that included a charge across the outpost that regained control of the ammunition supply depot.

In doing so, he ignored an order to hold his position, pretending the radio was broken. His actions also allowed the recovery of killed or wounded comrades, and provided time to call in air strikes and other support.

The U.S. military closed the heavily damaged outpost three days later, destroying what remained to prevent it from aiding insurgents in any way.

A few months later, a U.S. military investigation found that measures taken to protect the outpost were lax, and critical intelligence and reconnaissance assistance had been diverted from the base.


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