Most people who recover from this injury never get to take the mound on Opening Day of a professional baseball game. Back in 2009, with Taliban insurgents attacking his unit, the soldier looked down at his bloodied arm. A rocket-propelled grenade had exploded nearby, and the shrapnel had torn up his right side.
“Just throw a bandage on it real quick," he told his fellow soldier before jumping back into the scrum.
Wait, you thought this was going to be about Stephen Strasburg opening the season less than two years after Tommy John surgery? No, this is the story of Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, who won the Medal of Honor earlier this year and threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park on Monday.
Romesha arrived at Combat Outpost Keating in May of 2009. Situated on low ground and surrounded by 10,000 foot mountains, it was a difficult place to defend (one soldier described the post as “being in a fishbowl or fighting from the bottom of a paper cup.”)
On October 3 that year, about 300 Taliban insurgents attacked the facility, which was being manned by about 50 Americans. In what would become known as the Battle of Kamdesh, the 12-hour fight took the lives of eight American soldiers. But it would have been a lot worse had Romesha not led a counterattack, held the facility, and called in for air support.
"I wholeheartedly believe he single-handedly saved the lives of everybody on that outpost,” Sgt. Brad Larson said. “He took it upon himself to take the COP back. I'm glad he's getting an award for it.”
For his valor, Romesha became just the fourth living Medal of Honor recipient from the war in Afghanistan.
“There were many lessons from COP Keating,” President Obama said at the February 11 Medal of Honor ceremony. “One of them is that our troops should never, ever, be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible. But that’s what these soldiers did — for each other, in sacrifice driven by pure love.”
Romesha shies away from considering himself a hero. Recently, he graciously declined to sit in first lady Michelle Obama's box during the State of the Union, opting instead to watch with friends and family, and he has said he feels "conflicted" about getting the award. Instead of basking in the glow, he opted for a metaphor strikingly fitting for someone standing before an audience at Nats Park on Opening Day.
“Anyone would have stepped up to the plate,” he said. “It was just, I happened to be there; but without the platoon pulling together, I couldn't have done what I did."