Story by Elizabeth Collins, Soldiers Magazine
Edited by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity
Former Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha loved the Army. He loved serving. He loved his men. He loved the pride and the honor and the sense of purpose. His grandfather had served in World War II, his father in Vietnam, and they had raised him to serve his country. But a few years ago, his commitment to the military was ending, and like many service members, he had a big decision to make.
He had done tours in both Kosovo and Korea, deployed to Iraq twice and had just survived an especially grueling and violent assignment in Afghanistan at Combat Outpost Keating with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
Keating was a rather primitive camp in a tiny valley surrounded by towering mountains in Nuristan province, only a handful of miles from the Pakistan border.
After almost five months of daily attacks, about 300 insurgents overran the approximately 50-man outpost on Oct. 3, 2009, killing eight soldiers and wounding 22, including Romesha, who was peppered with shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade.
Romesha led the effort to retake Keating – actions for which he received the Medal of Honor in a Feb. 11, 2013, White House ceremony – but it had been close, much too close.
Unlike many soldiers, Romesha hadn’t suffered any lasting effects. He didn’t have nightmares or flashbacks or anything he couldn’t work through by talking to a battle buddy, but he couldn’t escape the sense that his luck might be running out. That next flag-draped coffin at Dover Air Force Base, Del., might be his.
His wife Tammy worried, too. After his first deployment to Iraq, she had learned to avoid the news and stay busy, but that October, another wife told Tammy she had heard their men were in trouble.
Romesha could go weeks without calling home while deployed, because he knew Tammy had everything under control and it was much easier if he just focused on the mission at hand.
“That really helps out, knowing that you’ve got someone strong back at home that you don’t have to worry about that stuff and you can concentrate on your mission,” Romesha said. “Her ability to be a strong, independent woman, to take care of the family and to take care of business back here, gave me the ability to take care of business over there with my head in the game, not thinking about what’s going on back here in the States.”
That could be hard for Tammy, but she understood, and she didn’t want to distract him. This time, however, as she waited four agonizing days for a phone call or worse, a knock on her door, she told herself that no news was good news. She even told her neighbor to watch her house when she had to leave.
He finally called to tell her he was fine, which was all Tammy really cared about. She didn’t hear the full story until months later when he returned home. When she finally did, it scared her all over again.
“To me, it’s like, ‘How the hell did you survive this time?’” she recalled. “I know he’s great at his job, but I guess I didn’t realize how great he is at his job. He’s really good. He has the ability to prioritize and compartmentalize his feelings, his job. He does what he needs to do at that moment and I can totally give him credit for that one.”
“But my end? My end I’m always thinking, ‘Oh my God. I feel sorry for the families that lost soldiers,’” Tammy said.
She didn’t really want to go through that again, but she knew how important the Army was to him. It was his decision, but Romesha didn’t really want to put her through it again either.
He had always volunteered for deployments and hard assignments and said he realized he “was being selfish and not being fair” to Tammy and their two daughters. (The high school sweethearts later had a son as well.) He said he was “putting them more or less on the back burner of life, so I made the decision that I would like to be more of a family man, be around a little more often.”
It was time, he decided, to move on, to find something else to do with his life. Romesha went through the Army Career and Alumni Program, noting “the military has a great system in place to place soldiers into future employment.”
He also believed finding a new job was his own responsibility, however. He had to do it for himself. He had to be proactive. When he heard there were a lot of jobs in the oil industry in North Dakota, he was interested. His sister and her husband were already up there. The jobs paid well, they said. He didn’t need experience, either, although his experience as a non-commissioned officer impressed the company that ultimately hired him.
Kevin Small, the president and chief executive officer of KS Industries, and Romesha’s boss, appreciates veterans’ work ethics for several reasons: they follow instructions, they don’t need a lot of training, they have integrity, they’re dependable and they aren’t afraid of hard work.
He said, “It really ties to the discipline. When a service member – Clint, for instance – comes to work for us, they truly understand as we try to lay out rules, policies, regulations, things that we have to do in some type of sequence. They follow them very, very well, (and that’s crucial, because) in the type of business we’re in, there’s a tremendous amount of risk.”
Romesha and Tammy moved their young family from Fort Carson, Colo., to Minot, N.D., and bought a flood-damaged house in need of renovation. He might have to drive 90 miles each way to get to work and spend weekends working on the house, but he’d be home every night. He could spend time with Tammy – so far they’d spent most of their 10-odd years of marriage apart – and he could watch his kids grow up.
He started out as a swapper – the “guy who rides in a seat and operates the wand” – on a hydro-excavation truck, “basically a high-pressure washer and a vacuum on a semi truck so you can do non-mechanical digging to locate live (oil) lines,” Romesha explained.
KS Industries then put him through its driver’s training program, and within months he was in charge of scheduling, educating and coaching the crews of five other trucks.
“And then the safety manager of the company, I guess, had had an eye on me for awhile,” he continued, “kind of seeing the traits the Army had given me – knowing how to enforce standards, follow policies and procedures, understand standard operating procedures – and had basically scouted me out to see if I’d switch out to the role of a field safety professional. All the skills that a field safety specialist has are the same ones the military gives NCOs. We do the quality control. We take care of soldiers, or now employees. We make sure they’re wearing their protective equipment when they’re doing hazardous jobs and tasks, just like the military has risk assessments. We ensure policies are being completed … so people don’t have injuries, just like the military has troop-leading procedures to make sure things get followed in a safe and efficient way.”
He’s good at it, Small said, very good. He was impressed with Romesha before he heard about the Medal of Honor. Now, he’s also honored to have Romesha working for him. He’d never met a Medal of Honor recipient before, and certainly never imagined he’d have one as an employee.
“I was kind of dumbfounded,” when he heard what Romesha had done, he confessed.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s the greatest achievement any human could ever be rewarded with. … He went beyond and beyond the call of duty and that’s why he’s being honored. And I’ll tell you what, I am just grateful to have him as part of our organization,” he said, joking that, “If he can do what he did in the battlefield in my safety group, I’ll be at zero. I’ll never have an accident. … We really want to make him a poster child for our organization.”