|Ty Carter receives Medal of Honor this week from President Obama|
Last night, as I watched newest Medal of Honor recipient, Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, tell his harrowing story to David Letterman, I fought back tears. Four years ago, while serving in Afghanistan, Carter and his 52 comrades at Combat Outpost Keating were surrounded and attacked by an estimated 300 Taliban fighters. It looked hopeless.
Armed with only an M4 carbine rifle, and with no regard for his own safety, Carter ran twice through a 100-meter gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply ammunition, rescued several wounded troops, and prevented the position from being overrun by the Taliban assault force over the course of many hours.
Carter, who was wounded in the attack, saved countless lives. In the process, he also saw eight of his fellow soldiers die in the battle. He suffered some hearing loss but recovered from his concussion and other physical injuries.
But then came the invisible wounds of war. The nightmares. The cold sweats. The anxiety. The uncontrollable shaking. He is still coping with all of that, as are millions of other men and women who've served our country.
Carter is an American hero, and what makes him even more heroic and brave in my eyes is that he is the first recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor, to speak so openly about his post-traumatic stress, also known as PTSD. His comments will go a long way toward getting rid of the stubbornly lingering stigma over PTSD.
Carter's hands were shaking a bit last night as he shared with Letterman the details of the firefight and his subsequent psychological struggles, which are as old as war itself and which I have reported before afflict at least one in three troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Carter noted that anyone can get PTSD, and emphasized the importance of talking to loved ones about your post-battle stress and seeking professional help.
He said when he first came back from that firefight it was very difficult for him to not panic when he was in a large crowd or when he was driving and saw a box on the side of the road that his mind irrationally told him could be an IED (improvised explosive device).
Carter has dedicated his life now to increasing public awareness of PTSD and other mental health issues for soldiers. He says veterans can come home and be whole again, they can get on with their lives and enjoy their families and friends. He is all about hope.
“Only those closest to me can see the scars that come from seeing good men take their last breath," Carter said before the ceremony this week. "During the battle, I lost some of the hearing in my left ear. But I will always hear the voice of Specialist Stephan Mace. I will hear his plea for help for the rest of my life.”
He then talked about how his therapist and others have helped him recover.
“Thanks to the professionalism of my platoon sergeant, Sgt. Hill, and my behavioral health provider (therapist), Captain Cobb, and my friends and family, I will heal.”
As he presented Carter with the prestigious medal, President Obama said, "It is absolutely critical for us to work with brave young men like Ty to put an end to any stigma that keeps more folks from seeking help. So let me say it as clearly as I can to any of our troops or veterans who are watching and struggling: Look at this man. Look at this soldier. Look at this warrior. He’s as tough as they come. And if he can find the courage and the strength, to not only seek help, but also to speak out about it, to take care of himself and to stay strong, then so can you. So can you."