WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Calling him "what truly makes this country great" in saluting his valor and praising his ongoing efforts to overcome the lingering emotional fallout of war, President Barack Obama presented Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter with the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony Monday morning.
Remaining stoic while the President recounted the Oct. 3, 2009, battle at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan, Carter, 33, surrounded by 40 family members and what the President called his "family forged in battle, and loss and love," cracked a small smile only after the award was placed around his neck in the East Room.
Nearly 400 Taliban attacked 54 U.S. soldiers that day in the vulnerable outpost in a mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan. Obama said soldiers referred to it as a "fishbowl," with insurgents killing eight Americans during a 12-hour firefight.
"Their worst fears became a reality," Obama said.
Carter fought off Taliban attackers while bunkered down behind a Humvee, making runs into "the blizzard of bullets and steel" not once or twice, "but perhaps 10 times," to grab ammunition and risking his life to help severely injured soldier Stephan Mace as he was caught in a barrage of enemy fire.
"If you remember one image, it's Ty carrying Mace and cradling him to safety," Obama said.
The president also acknowledged Carter's advocacy in trying to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Let me say it as clearly as I can to any of our troops or veterans who are watching and struggling," Obama said. "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."
Later, Carter told reporters that winning the medal had been "one of the greatest experiences" for his family and that he would "strive to live up to the responsibility." He also said wants to help the American public to better understand the "invisible wounds" still inflicting him and thousands of others.
"Only those closest to me can see the scars," Carter said, reading his statement. He added that those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder "are not damaged, they are just burdened by living when others are not."
Monday's ceremony marked the first time since 1968 that there are two living Medal of Honor recipients for the same battle. Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha received the medal in February.
Carter graduated from high school in Spokane, Wash., and lived in Antioch, where his father still lives, before enlisting in 2008. He also has received a Purple Heart and many other military medals.
Mark Carter, Ty's father, called the experience, including the motorcade from the hotel to the White House, "totally mind-blowing."
In a text message, he described meeting with the president and having photos taken with his son and Obama, the signing of the accommodation and presentation as "once in hundred life times!"
Residents in the East Contra Costa city were filled with pride seeing one of their own win the nation's highest military honor.
"It touched my heart, to see these people that fight for our country honored," Antioch resident Terry Furry said of Monday's ceremony.
Oftentimes people tend to have a complacent attitude about war, she said.
"It's a big deal and something very positive to happen for the entire Bay Area," she said.
"It's a proud day for our community, and bittersweet for Ty remembering the events that brought him to this proud day," adds Josie Monaghan, head of the East County Veterans group.
Monaghan, who has worked to establish a peer-to-peer mentoring network for returning veterans to cope with issues by talking with each other, hopes those in need of help are inspired by Carter's story.
"We are ready to reach out to them," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.