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The Midweek Motivator – Vicious, Heartbreaking, Unflinching

In 2009 Clinton Romesha’s Red Platoon and the rest of his Black Night Troop were hurrying to shut down COP (Command Outpost) Keating; a strategic site so vulnerable every solider there referred to it as a backhanded mistake. Picture a huge “bowl” of canyons, caves and scrub brush between the Afghan and Pakistan borders, where at its very floor the Army chose to build the camp. Everyone acknowledged it was too remote, too indefensible as an outpost; an ambush waiting to happen. Three years later the Army finally became convinced it needed to be closed.

On 9 October 2009 after a long series of minor skirmishes as Clint Romesha’s command was preparing to vacate the camp, over 300 Taliban mounted an all-out assault against the outpost. Vulnerable from all sides of the enveloping canyon, Red Platoon was suddenly taking fire from a much larger force. Using his instincts and training Romesha positioned fire-points around the Keating campus, placing his best gunnery support and shooters at key tactical points. Using a recoilless rifle, Rocket Propelled Grenades, mortars and machine guns, the Taliban sought a no-quarters route of the American outpost. The book Red Platoon describes their 12 hour ordeal. 

Red Platoon began calling for air support from Apache gunships and for troop reinforcements. But the camp’s isolated position meant hours before relief could arrive, and with mountainous topography and weather, they could expect little help. Romesha’s fire control was brilliantly managed yet hopelessly outgunned; from Rocket Propelled Grenades to gun emplacements firing down from small unseen caves around the canyon’s walls. 

The battle for Keating raged 12 hours during which Romesha’s guys kept fire-cover for the wounded station, moved key pieces of weaponry around the grounds, and assigned an impossible a fire-point from a Humvee sitting in the open near the camp’s entry. This was Camp Keating’s Alamo; overwhelmed by force and firepower but fought elegantly by highly skilled American warriors. Hours passed, ammunition ran low and there were injuries, including Sergeant Romesha. Eight Americans had lost their lives. 

Wounded in the neck, arms and shoulder by shrapnel, Romesha personally led a counter-attacking squad to take-back the “Ammo depot,” supplied cover for Keating’s aid station and collected several wounded. Red Platoon bought hours of time before the Taliban finally breached the compound setting fire to it. The outnumbered Americans fought for their outpost and for survival while 35 Afghan national soldiers abandon their post and drifted away. 

After 12 hours, innumerable injuries with eight Americans killed, the miracle of Camp Keating’s last stand became another in a long line of accounts of what Americans can and will do for a cause; even one as dubious as Camp Keating. And lest we picture Red Platoon’s Black Knight Troop a bunch of hardened steely-eyed commandos, in reality they were a collection of everyday personalities as diverse as your office staff.  

Seeking neither glory nor conquest these men fought brilliantly because it was simply their job to defend and survive against daunting odds. Fittingly in 2013 Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor, the fourth living Medal recipient for US campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.