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ND veteran receives Medal of Honor for Afghan fight

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha receives a standing ovation Monday after being presented with the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama. Romesha led about 50 Americans to victory over 300 Taliban fighters in the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh.

WASHINGTON -- At the bottom of a valley in eastern Afghanistan, Army Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha woke up Oct. 3, 2009, to explosions ricocheting throughout his compound. Racing out of bed to grab his machine gun, he and roughly 50 Americans were about to fight one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan war.

For his part in repelling 300 Taliban fighters heaving bullets and bombs from atop the mountains onto Romesha's outpost, President Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Honor Thursday at the White House. The accolade is the country's highest military decoration.

"These men were outnumbered, outgunned and almost overrun," Obama said. "Looking back, one of them said, 'I'm surprised any of us made it out.' But they are here today."

Romesha was the section leader of Bravo Troop at Combat Outpost Keating in Nuristan Province.

He mobilized a five-man team and took out a group of Taliban operating a machine gun. He directed air support that killed more than 30 enemy combatants, provided covering fire to help wounded comrades get to the aid station and recovered the bodies of dead Americans.

Obama described the attack in detail, and he praised Romesha and his fellow soldiers, naming each of the eight soldiers who died that day.

"When I called Clint to tell him that he would receive this medal, he said he was honored, but he also said, 'it wasn't just me out there, it was a team effort.' And so today we also honor this American team, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice," Obama said.

There were also lighter moments during the ceremony. Obama said Romesha and his wife, Tammy, who are celebrating their 13th wedding anniversary on Tuesday, might have wanted a more intimate gathering. Obama talked about the couple's three children, Dessi, Gwen and Colin, and said how comfortable Colin, the youngest, felt in the Oval Office.

"He was racing around pretty good. And sampled a number of the apples before he found the one that was just right," Obama said.

During the attack, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade ripped through Romesha's hip, arm and neck. But still, he continued to fight.

Equipped with a sniper rifle, Romesha maneuvered his way through heavy gunfire, destroying target after target. By the end of the daylong fight, the Taliban were forced to retreat.

"Why do those in uniform take such extraordinary risks? And what compels them to such courage?" Obama asked. "Yes, they fight for their country, and they fight for our freedom. Yes, they fight to come home to their families. But most of all, they fight for each other, to keep each other safe and to have each other's backs."

Romesha left the Army in 2011 after more than a decade. He lives in Minot with his family and works in the Oil Patch.

The California native grew up in Lake City, where the population was less than 100.

Romesha is the 80th living recipient of the Medal of Honor, and the fourth for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Dozens of members of Congress, soldiers and leaders of the Armed Forces filled the White House East Room to watch Romesha receive his award. He will be honored at the Pentagon today

Shortly before placing the medal around his neck, Obama recognized the other soldiers who fought alongside Romesha.

"God bless you, Clint Romesha, and all of your team," Obama said. "I would ask these soldiers, this band of brothers, to stand and accept the gratitude of our entire nation."