The latest Medal of Honor recipient, Staff Sergeant Ty Michael Carter, offered an interesting perspective on his distinction in an interview with NPR on Monday morning, discussing the suffering and loss one goes through in the heat of battle.
"I would never tell any soldier or service member, 'Hey, go out and get the Medal of Honor', because of the amount of pain and loss and tears that has to be shed in order to receive it," Carter said.
"Even though this award is an awesome honor and a great privilege, in order to get such a prestigious award, you have to be in a situation where your soldiers, your family, your brothers, are suffering and dying around you."
Carter, 33, is to be recognized by the president during a ceremony on Monday for "conspicuous gallantry" during the Battle of Kamdesh, a day-long firefight between U.S. forces and hundreds of Taliban forces during which eight Army personnel were killed and more than 25 wounded. Though wounded, Carter rescued another wounded soldier from the line of fire and help prevent a guard post from being overrun by enemy troops.
"Without regard to his own safety, Spc. Ty Michael Carter proved himself time and time again," according to the official Army report.
"He resupplied ammunition to fighting positions, provided first aid to a battle buddy, killed enemy troops, and valiantly risked his own life to save a fellow soldier who was injured and pinned down by overwhelming fire" after Taliban forces attacked an operation post with machine guns and heavy weaponry.
Carter's words reveal a side of war that isn't often discussed publicly from an American perspective: the suffering, sorrow, and destruction of lives war brings. As the Medal of Honor has historically been awarded posthumously, the public rarely hears what the recipient went through in order to gain such distinction.
Carter's sentiments echo those made by another living Medal of Honor recipient. Sergeant Dakota Meyer was given his medal for rescuing 23 Afghan and 13 American soldiers at Ganjgal Province in September 2009 under intense gunfire, despite orders to the contrary. Meyer referred to the battle as "the worst day of [his] life" and insisted that memorial services for his fallen comrades be held on the same day as his ceremony. A year after the battle, Meyer sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder after a failed suicide attempt.
Carter and Meyer show the mental anguish soldiers such as themselves go through during and after combat. While their stories are the ones made public, thousands of other have gone through near identical situations and the suffering that goes along with it. While their bravery should be noted, the horrors of war must be recognized as well.
The suffering of not only Medal of Honor recipients, but that of other soldiers and veterans, should act as a cautionary tale before politicians and policy wonks send these men to war. The human side of war is too often overlooked, and the suffering that follows needs to be recognized. More American soldiers today die from suicide than from active combat. Soldiers like Carter and Meyer should continue to speak out for their fellow comrades that have gone through similar losses during their respective tours, as they, unlike armchair generals, truly know the emotional strain of war.