Posted: Jan 13, 2013 8:50 AM by Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette
Updated: Jan 13, 2013 9:47 AM
The Gazette -- The cellphone rang shortly after Thanksgiving, interrupting Clinton Romesha's job at a North Dakota oil business.
On the line, a well-mannered secretary spoke. President Barack Obama wanted to talk.
The next few words changed Romesha's life. Answering the phone, he was a married father of three - a former Fort Carson soldier who ended up missing much of his kids' childhood during three violent combat deployments.
He hung up the phone a Medal of Honor recipient, just the fourth living honoree for service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"I was like ‘Well, I thought I had an unlisted number,'" Romesha said, chuckling. "Of course, the president can track down anybody."
He drove home, walked up to his wife, Tamara, and broke the news.
"‘Those rumors that we've kind of been hearing,'" Romesha recalled telling her. "‘The president confirmed it today. I love you. We'll make it through.'"
On Oct. 3, 2009, the combat veteran led about 50 Americans and two Latvians against 350 Taliban insurgents storming a remote outpost labeled "indefensible". He felt overwhelmed after being told he'd receive the nation's highest honor for combat gallantry.
The weeks that followed foreshadowed the whirlwind to come.
Soon after the president's call, Army officials began briefing him on the upcoming media blitz and travel plans to the White House for his Feb. 11 ceremony - which comes a day before his 13th wedding anniversary.
Charging his cellphone would prove wise.
Romesha, who lives in Minot N.D., while working for an oil field construction company, spent Friday answering more calls once the White House announced his award. This time, he spoke with at least one senator and fellow soldiers who were with him at Combat Outpost Keating when it came under siege.
A few scheduled calls from reporters followed on Saturday. He'd received media attention before - the attack was the subject of a recent book called "The Outpost" by Jake Tapper, CNN's chief Washington correspondent.
But, he admits, the entire reason he left the Army was for a peaceful quiet he never found there.
He put his family "on the back burner" during two deployments to Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan, where for three months he served at Combat Outpost Keating while the Taliban lobbed mortars at their post.
"I knew I was getting to the point I was being pretty unfair to them (his family) to continue to go overseas and spend so much time away," he said. "I wanted to come back and be a father and a dad and a husband."
His last deployment nearly came to an end at Keating. Insurgents poured past the wire of the outpost, leaving Romesha to lead the counterattack to retake the combat outpost.
He did so despite shrapnel hitting his neck, shoulder and arm after a rocket-propelled grenade struck a generator - "peppering" wounds he dismissed as "nothing."
"That was our America right there," Romesha said. "We owned that. And we weren't going to let someone come and take it."
Eight Fort Carson soldiers died that day, four of them from his platoon.
Memories of them resonated through the seemingly endless phone calls about his medal. And he thought of the soldiers who survived, who held their posts that day.
"For me, we did everything we could," Romesha said. "And we did so many great things. And we suffered and lost some dear friends.
"But we've got to rise from the ashes and just continue on."