MOH recipient saves lives on, off battlefield

Courtesy photo

A man who courageously fought the enemy on the battlefield and received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry has a new fight: erasing shame from those seeking help after a tragedy.

“I want to help remove the stigma associated with post-traumatic stress, which is really an instinctive, reflective response of the body and mind to recall a traumatic event in order to avoid repeating it,” said retired Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter. “You’re supposed to feel upset after a trauma. I want people to understand that they can heal from this.”

Carter has his own experience with trauma and the stress that follows. The morning of Oct. 9, 2009, started like many of the others he experienced halfway into a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. A firefight with the Taliban became the wake-up call for Carter and his comrades at a small outpost in Nuristan province. He volunteered to resupply the shooting positions on the outskirts of the base and wound up getting caught in a fight that lasted hours and cost the lives of eight of his fellow soldiers, with many more wounded. If not for the actions of Carter, it could have been worse. “I made a whole bunch of stupid decisions that helped a whole lot of people out,” he admitted.

Those he helped and their families back home might not agree that any of Carter’s decisions were “stupid.” Among the choices made that day was going back for another soldier injured during the fight, risking his own life as the bullets whizzed by his head and nursing his own wounds from a rocket-propelled grenade that exploded nearby. He gave first aid that extended his colleague’s life, if only for a little longer.

“I tied a tourniquet on his leg, because most of his ankle and calf were missing on one side,” said Carter, also patching up his wounded comrade’s multiple bullet wounds before eventually getting him back to an aid station. “While Sgt. Bradley Larson provided cover fire, I carried Spec. Stephon Mace up a hill [under fire the entire time] to get him back.”

Together, still under attack, Larson and Carter carried Mace 100 yards the rest of the way to the aid station. While their wounded comrade would die on the operating table, it didn’t lessen Carter’s instinct to save a fellow soldier.

“When you see someone wearing your same uniform, fighting to defend you, hurting and in pain, it’s like you’re looking at one of your own kids,” Carter said. “And you’re going to do everything you can to help and protect. He was part of my family, and I knew how to help.”

Carter credited his first aid training learned in the Boy Scouts, as well as what he learned during a previous military stint as a Marine, and Army training about saving the lives of those injured in combat.

“Every time I went through the combat lifesaver class, I took it extremely seriously, and when it came down to making it happen, I just made it happen,” he said.

Nearly eight years after the firefight and four years after receiving the Medal of Honor, Carter has a bigger purpose: educating fellow service members, as well as civilian police and first responders, on getting the help needed.

“I would tell leadership, doctors, and fellow service members to keep an open mind,” he said. “I’m trying to give them the information they need to improve their quality of life so they can learn to cope with their trauma.”

Carter was among those recognized May 4 at the Heroes of Military Medicine dinner in Washington, D.C., receiving the Ambassador Award. He appreciates the honor and wants to use the event to communicate how advances in military medicine dealing with post-traumatic stress are helping others. In addition, he’s heartened by how leadership now encourages troops to seek help and not feel weak for asking for assistance.

“Bravado has been killing us,” said Carter. “Now we have a better understanding of what’s really happening; we have a better ability to take care of our own.”