Army Staff Sargeant Ty Michael Carter has demonstrated how important being physically fit for every soldier. All those endurance, strength, and cardio tests and exercises proved to play a critical role when you’re heavily under fire.

But Carter wasn’t running to preserve his precious life on that fateful October 3, 2009. No, no, no. He was weaving across a hundred-meter open ground near his barracks to retrieve and deliver those frickin’ hefty ammunition loads to his fellow Soldiers—twice! He’d come back for some machine gun oil and more ammunition. All that running while being bombarded from all sides of the outpost. If that isn’t some badass gallantry, then I don’t know what is.

A Marine Man Turned Soldier

Before joining the Army, Carter was in the Marines.

The Washington native was born in January 1980 with his family temporarily moving to California’s Bay Area at age one before settling back in Spokane in 1991, where he’d spend most of his childhood. After graduating high school, Carter enlisted in the Marine Corps and attended the Marine Corps Combat Engineer School. He’d then serve in Okinawa, Japan as an intelligence clerk, and when his outstanding marksmanship was discovered, he’d be sent to Primary Marksmanship Instructor School in 1999. He served two more short training deployments before the Marine Corps honorably discharged him in October 2002.

For a while, Carter tried to live everyday life as a private citizen, even enrolled in a community college to study biology. But the calling for service still lingers in him; thus, at the start of 2008, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and trained to become a cavalry scout at Fort Knox, Kentucky. After completing his training, he was sent to Fort Carson to join the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which would eventually be deployed to Nuristan Province in Afghanistan on May 2009 to watch over Combat Outpost Keating.

carter in Afghanistan
(Image source: U.S. Army/CMOHS)

That Fateful October Morning

Combat Outpost Keating earned its notorious deathtrap moniker (more commonly as the “fishball”) because soldiers were vulnerable and became easy targets to enemies hiding above the surrounding tall mountains.

Then-Specialist Carter knew that as soon as he arrived at the outpost along with his unit, and for the following months, they’d painstakingly patrol and surveil the area for potential threats. During their downtime, they’d spend time inside their bunkers to protect themselves from unexpected incursions. Soldiers of the 61st Cavalry Regiment were always on the lookout, but little was able to prepare them for that October morning.

Loud explosions woke Carter and the other 52 Soldiers up. They were under attack. But what they thought would be a minor assault turned out to be a culmination of month-long planning involving not ten, not fifty—but some 300 Taliban fighters coming from all sides of COP Keating “fired on them using rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars, and other small arms.”

Combat Outpost Keating
A view of Combat Outpost Keating on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, Jan. 2, 2005. (Image source: U.S. Army/DoD)

Quick to his feet, Carter threw on his boots and Kevlar vest and immediately began to do his job and help initiate a forward battle position. That’s how he ended up sprinting to gather ammunitions and deliver them to fellow Soldiers until he sought cover inside a Humvee that was ultimately totaled. But it provided temporary protection for Carter and four other men trapped inside. They must’ve thought it was the end for them, especially after spotting Taliban fighters advancing at the outpost’s entrance. But, not wanting to die without a fight, the trapped Soldiers devised a plan to escape.

Carter and Sgt. Brad Larson provided cover for the three other Soldiers; wherein one had already been severely injured, to escape first. However, gunfires were still ongoing, and the men barely made it halfway when they got shot down. Carter and Larson went back in the Humvee. They spent the next hours trapped, simultaneously taking shots at the Taliban fighters infiltrating the outpost as much as possible, when suddenly Carter saw Specialist Stephan Mace moving. He was alive, but barely. Larson would relentlessly warn Carter that saving Mace was too risky, but the latter insisted.

Leaving No Man Behind

This man knew there was a great possibility of him getting killed as soon as stepping out from the confines of the Humvee, but he bit the bullet. Leaving his rifle behind, Carter crossed the 30m open space and performed first-aid to critically wounded Mace before carrying him back into the Humvee.

Sadly, Mace wouldn’t make it, but thanks to Carter’s first aid, the wounded soldier could at least reach the surgery table instead of drawing his last breath in the dirt. Unfortunately, seven more soldiers perished that day, while 25 men were injured, including Carter. Before the reinforcements could arrive, Carter helped defend the outpost and save wounded fellow Soldiers on the battlefield.

Carter’s official Medal of Honor citation:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Specialist Ty M. Carter distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Scout with Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3, 2009.

On that morning, Specialist Carter and his comrades awakened to an attack of an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of Combat Outpost Keating, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire. Specialist Carter reinforced a forward battle position, ran twice through a 100 meter gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply ammunition and voluntarily remained there to defend the isolated position. Armed with only an M4 carbine rifle, Specialist Carter placed accurate, deadly fire on the enemy, beating back the assault force and preventing the position from being overrun, over the course of several hours.

With complete disregard for his own safety and in spite of his own wounds, he ran through a hail of enemy rocket propelled grenade and machine gun fire to rescue a critically wounded comrade who had been pinned down in an exposed position. Specialist Carter rendered life extending first aid and carried the Soldier to cover. On his own initiative, Specialist Carter again maneuvered through enemy fire to check on a fallen Soldier and recovered the squad’s radio, which allowed them to coordinate their evacuation with fellow Soldiers.

With teammates providing covering fire, Specialist Carter assisted in moving the wounded Soldier 100 meters through withering enemy fire to the aid station and before returning to the fight. Specialist Carter’s heroic actions and tactical skill were critical to the defense of Combat Outpost Keating, preventing the enemy from capturing the position and saving the lives of his fellow Soldiers.

Specialist Ty M. Carter’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.”

In addition to the valor medal, Carter would receive the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army commendation Medal (with four oak leaf clusters), and the Army Achievement Medal (with two oak leaf clusters), among many others.

Carter survived that day, along with some battle scars here and there. But what affected him most was the psychological scars he bottled for years. He even got deployed back first at Fort Lewis in Washington, then a second time to Afghanistan in 2012.

I can only imagine the inner battle he fought while being back on the soil where he lost eight of his comrades—where he almost died. It eventually took a toll on him. He sought help for his “post-traumatic stress” (as he called it, omitting the word “disorder”) not long after, which sparked a new purpose for him after leaving active duty: to become a mental health advocate, often with fellow veterans, to spread education and awareness.

You can watch Carter’s documentary episode (EP08) on Netflix. In addition, a 2020 war film directed by Rod Lurie was also released based on the 2012 non-fiction book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, which featured both Medal of Honor recipients, Carter and Clinton Romesha, and the rest of the 61st Cavalry Regiment. Titled The Outpost, the film recounts the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the bloodiest battles during the Afghanistan war.