Veterans Honored with Presidential Recognition

On Monday, Feb 11th, former SSgt Clinton Romesha was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama for his heroic actions in the Oct 3rd, 2009 Battle of COP Keating (also known as the Battle of Kamdesh), during which the position was nearly overrun. It would have been the first time a US unit was overrun since the Viet Nam war. The COP was attacked by a force that outnumbered the US forces by almost 10:1. The COP occupied the low ground, and was surrounded by ridges. The COP has since been called “indefensible.”

American, allied,  and Afghanistan forces, including the Observation Post about 2 km away and the mortar pit, included 57. The Taliban attacked with more than 300. The attack was a complex, supported attack. Breaches occurred at a latrine area close to the perimeter wire; the main entrance where civilian guards, Afghan Security Guards were overwhelmed; and from the eastern side—where Afghan National Army soldiers were stationed. Despite the efforts of two Latvian military advisors, who tried to convince the Afghan National Army forces not to flee, the Afghan defenders quickly broke and ran. US soldiers reported that none of the Afghan soldiers held their ground. Once the perimeter was breached, the Taliban set fire to numerous buildings, while the Americans and allied soldiers formed an internal defensive perimeter around two buildings. From there, the Americans counter-attacked to retake the COP and restore the integrity of their base.

The insurgents began to retreat later in the day. Quick reaction forces from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment did not reach the outpost until 7:00 pm that day, while insurgents remained in parts of the outpost as late as 5:10 pm. On October 5 and 6, coalition troops conducted operations in the area in an attempt to locate and destroy the Taliban forces responsible for the attack on the outposts. Another 10 Afghan soldiers and 4 Taliban fighters were killed during these operations.

American forces had already planned to pull out of the area as part of a plan to move forces to more densely populated areas, so closure of the base was imminent when the attack occurred. The attack accelerated those plans, with the troops’ departure taking place quickly after the battle that some munitions were abandoned. The outpost was evacuated two days later, and bombed on October 6 by a B-1 bomber to prevent insurgents from looting the munitions abandoned in the hasty withdrawal. The outpost’s depot was promptly looted by the insurgents and bombed by American planes in an effort to destroy the lethal munitions left behind.

Eight US soldiers were killed and 22 wounded; eight Afghan soldiers were wounded, along with two Afghan private security guards. The US military estimated that 150 Taliban militants were also killed as a result of repulsing the assault. The US soldiers killed in the battle were: Justin T. Gallegos, Christopher Griffin, Kevin C. Thomson, Michael P. Scusa, Vernon W. Martin, Stephan L. Mace, Joshua J. Kirk, and Joshua M. Hardt.  Twenty-seven purple hearts were awarded, as well as 18 Bronze stars for valor, 9 Silver Stars, 8 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 1 Medal of Honor.

SSgt Romesha’s combat has been called epic. According to his citation, Romesha moved uncovered under intense enemy fire multiple times to muster reinforcements and fire on attackers. He took out an enemy machine gun team and, while engaging a second, was wounded by shrapnel when a generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. He fought on undeterred, exposing himself to “heavy enemy fire” while moving “confidently about the battlefield. Romesha engaged and destroyed “multiple enemy targets.” He also directed air support to destroy more than 30 enemy fighters and saved other wounded troops.

“Staff Sergeant Romesha’s heroic actions throughout the day long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers. His extraordinary efforts gave Bravo Troop the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counterattack that allowed the troop to account for its personnel and secure Combat Outpost Keating,” according to his award citation.

On Tuesday, Feb 12th, Adam Burke of Veterans Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition will receive the Presidential Citizenship Medal from President Obama. Connecticut’s own Working Vessels for Veterans works closely with Veterans Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition to help veterans learn about farming and start their own farms. Adam Burke is a Purple Heart recipient who started Veterans Farm in 2009 in Jacksonville FL. It is planning to expand to our state in the near future.

I find it very interesting that two veterans are receiving such important Presidential recognition in such close proximity, and so close to the 2013 State of the Union address. I have long believed that this current generation of combat veterans would lead the way in the next decade for solving some of the economic ills that have beset our nation. At the same time, in grand scheme of things, this generation of veterans are creating both social value and economic value by committing to reintegrate veterans into the workforce and American economic life.

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