JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Ty Carter has always felt best knowing what he was doing had a purpose.
The Army staff sergeant's purpose was clear on the morning of Oct. 3, 2009. With his unit outnumbered almost 10-to-1, the former Antioch resident fought off Taliban attackers at an outpost in eastern Afghanistan, risking his life to help an injured soldier caught in a barrage of enemy fire.
President Barack Obama will recognize Carter's valor with the military's highest award, the Medal of Honor, during a ceremony Monday at the White House.
Carter will be the fifth living service member to receive the award for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. The event will mark the first time since 1968 that there are two living Medal of Honor recipients for the same battle. Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha received the medal in February.
Nearly 400 Taliban attacked 54 U.S. soldiers that day at Combat Outpost Keating, killing eight Americans during a 12-hour firefight. Carter was among the 25 soldiers injured in the battle.
Excited and nervous to receive the medal, Carter, 33, said the honor recognizes the fallen and the living from that battle.
"This award is about the people that were there, the other troops that saved (Sgt. Bradley) Larson and I," he said. "Without them, I wouldn't be here."
After years of extensive counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, Carter has only recently been able to talk about what happened.
It was about 6 a.m. when the troops, stationed below steep mountains near the town of Kamdesh, woke to "heavier than normal" machine-gun fire and explosions, Carter said.
Carter was immediately ordered to man a machine gun, so he grabbed supply packs and body armor, which he hastily threw over his T-shirt and shorts.
"Concrete, sand, everything was spitting back at me," Carter said, recalling sprinting through an open area to join fellow soldiers, resupplying them with ammunition and rifle lubrication as they took heavy fire.
Insurgents launched several rocket-propelled grenades, forcing the Americans to take cover behind a Humvee. One rocket detonated the vehicle's machine gun, spraying the interior with shrapnel.
Carter got by on adrenaline.
"I knew the slower I went, or if I stopped to think about it, I would be killed. I told myself, if you're going to live through this, you have to be hauling butt," he said.
Twice more Carter ran the gauntlet of bullets that came down like "large raindrops" -- once to check on comrades and gather supplies from a second Humvee, then later to radio for help.
At times pausing to regain his composure, Carter recalled seeing Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos be gunned down by machine-gun fire and Spc. Stephan Mace being pelted by shrapnel from a grenade. Larson and Carter stayed by the Humvee -- whose roof, Carter said, had turned "completely into Swiss cheese" -- providing cover fire, killing two insurgents and wounding one.
About two hours into the fight, Carter spotted Mace trying to crawl on his elbows to safety.
Carter described Mace as "having a look of pain and sorrow. He had lost so much blood and water that he could not sweat; the dust was just caked to his face."
Carter went to Mace, placed a tourniquet around his shattered leg and carried him from harm's way, but his comrade's wounds were too severe. Mace died later in surgery.
Carter and Larson warded off a third insurgent breach, while Romesha and another soldier led a counterattack and opened an evacuation route.
Despite the trauma of that day, Carter found his Army challenges more fulfilling than what he was doing before enlisting.
Carter's father, Mark, said his son moved back in with him to Antioch after being honorably discharged from the Marines in October 2002. Ty Carter enrolled in Pittsburg's Los Medanos College to study biology, but shortly thereafter met his first wife. With a child soon on the way, he dropped out to support his family.
Carter worked a series of "little odds and ends" jobs, including working at a movie theater in Antioch and scrubbing the bottoms of boats on the Delta.
"He was struggling, earning a paycheck but not much else," his father said. "His base instinct is that he wants to do something that's fulfilling."
After a divorce, Ty Carter enlisted in the Army in January 2008, where he worked on munitions and explosives. He was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009.
Several months ago, Carter said, he was at home in Yelm, Wash., with family when he received a "weird" phone call from a lieutenant colonel in Washington, D.C., asking if he would be available in the next week to take a call.
Carter had known for some time that he had been nominated for the Medal of Honor.
"We wondered what it could be. That was the only thing we could think of," Mark Carter said.
Ty Carter planned part of his family vacation with his new wife and three kids around the call. On a Thursday morning he stopped their camper at a small-town gas station near Crater Lake in Oregon.
"At 10:20 a.m., a woman called and asked if I was available to talk. I said I could, and then he got on," Carter said. It was President Barack Obama, telling him he would receive the award.
"He sounded like he does on TV, so I knew it was him. He thanked me for my service and asked how my wife and the girls were and said he looks forward to meeting me at the White House."
Overwhelmed, Carter told his wife, Shannon.
"She kind of jumped and screamed 'No way!' so loud that passers-by actually looked," he said.
Once life settles down, Carter's next purpose will be to help those with the same post-battle stress he experienced, as he starts work in transition units treating soldiers with serious injuries and long-term illnesses.
"It's so important for service members to be able talk to somebody. A lot of them are ashamed to get help," Carter said.
It has taken years of continued counseling and his wife's understanding for Carter to overcome it.
Mace's death was the most crushing blow. Initially, it was believed he would survive after being rescued.
"I felt that I was a failure, and I didn't want others to be around me," Carter said.
He felt especially bad for Mace's mother, Vanessa, but said "absorbing her strength" has helped.
"She told me she was OK with it and that it was a great gift I had given her son -- to not die on the field and be able to put his soul at peace."
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.