Conservative Book Club Members, thank you for listening to our weekly author interview podcast series. I’m Chris Malagisi, Editor-in-Chief of the Conservative book club. Today our exclusive author interview (listen below) is with Medal of Honor recipient Clinton Romesha who is author of the recently released book Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor.
For those who are first learning of Staff Sgt. Romesha, he is a former Staff Sgt. who enlisted in the Army in 1999. He deployed twice to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and once to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. At the time of the deadly attack on combat outpost Keating on Oct. 2nd 2009, staff Sgt. Romesha was assigned as a section leader for the Brave Bravo Troop, 36th 1st Calvary, 4th Brigade Combat Team in the 4th Infantry Division. He’s a recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Medal of Honor, the highest military award the country can bestow for his bravery and heroism during the battle for combat outpost Keating that we will get into in a bit. A few years later Staff Sgt. Romesha separated from the army in 2011 and now lives with his family in Dakota.
His book is getting many accolades from some very notable figures including General Stanley McChrystal, the previous commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan who says Red Platoon is a “brilliant book”. Also, Sebastian Junger the journalist and author of The Perfect Storm, a story made popular by the George Clooney movie not too long ago, says that the assault on Camp Keating is “a vitally important story that needs to be understood by the public and I cannot imagine an account that does it better justice than Romesha’s”. Ladies and gentlemen, Red Platoon is a story that deserves to be told and to honor the brave servicemen from that day, and with that, we are proud to introduce Staff Sgt. Romesha. Congratulations on your new book. Thank you for joining the Conservative Book Club today and thank you for your service.
Clinton Romesha (CR): Well, I appreciate it and thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to talk a little bit about Red Platoon.
Christopher Malagisi (CM): We, again, appreciate having you here today. Before we get into your story about the battle for Keating, tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, your family background. I know your family has a couple of generations in the military and I would love to learn about that and what led you to join yourself.
CR: You know, I grew up in a very tiny rural town in northern California where my family shuttled to back in the days of the covered wagon… you know growing up there was one of the great stops to be in life, surrounded by all my family. My grandfather was a WWII veteran; my father was a Vietnam veteran, he did a couple of tours there, both my brothers ended up serving. I had a couple of uncles that had served in the Marine Corps, Navy, so we had kind of a tradition of military service. Growing up there in a little tiny farming community, it wasn’t like it was a prerequisite to serve, you didn’t have to put on a uniform to do it, but it was always kind of.. you know, service came from every aspect of life and was always encouraged. The story of me joining the Army was that I was really just always wanting to serve from my earliest memories till the time I graduated high school. I didn’t know how long I wanted to do it, but I just kind of wanted to do it. As soon as I could, I wanted to do it. I have to admit, what I thought was going to be four years of my life finally grew into twelve by the time I got out. It’s an experience that I just can’t appreciate how it’s developed me into the man I am and help instill and compound the values that my family put into me from a very early age.
CM: Well, it’s an amazing story just getting there. Tell us a little bit about how you ended up in Afghanistan — and I know before you were stationed in Germany and South Korea, even volunteered for a tour of duty in Iraq. How did you end up in Afghanistan?
CR: My service went on, I initially started off in tanks on the Big M1A1 which… Afghanistan isn’t quite a place where you use armor like that. So my first tour took me back from Iraq and Korea then back again as my unit made the transition from going to what we call light infantry. So from being on vehicles to cruising around in what we call our LPCs or “Leather Personnel Carriers”. After doing the second deployment to Iraq, you know, we were then at a full light counter unit status so by default the light guys walk so we pulled a tour of duty to Afghanistan which was exciting since it initially kicked off the war on terror. I had a couple of tours in Iraq, you know, kind of, we did the full combat circle going there was a challenging experience that, you know, was cautiously welcomed.
CM: Setting up the story here for the battle of Keating, talk to us about the base and where exactly it was because this is, correct me if I am wrong, is the northernmost outpost that the international armed forces had in Afghanistan at that point in time.
CR: We were in what they call the Nuristan Provence of Afghanistan, and kind of to quickly describe the location, if you look at a map of Afghanistan and you have that peninsula that juts up to the north out to Pakistan we were kind of just in the spur right there just about thirty kilometers from the Pakistani border. We were, by that point the northernmost forces except for some guys in choosing company a bit north of us who were trying to recapture a little town from the Taliban for a few months that we were there. They were trying to take it from the Afghan border patrol and the national police. But the idea of that outpost and the establishment of it was.. as U.S. forces were moving north into Afghanistan in the initial invasion, Camp Keating was going to be just a stopping point where we would refuel and then continue and push north to engage the Taliban on their home territory. Unfortunately, the way of the world was that we got involved in Iraq and the nature of a two front war is to divide priorities and they got torn between the two efforts. It came to a point where it got concentrated into Iraq and the surge in Iraq. So, what was going to be a quick staging point was reassembled and put into the perspective of we need coalition presence, we need new escorts driving in that part of the country. And for the time being it will be Camp Keating until we develop a plan to come back or reengage.
CM: Before Oct. 2nd, what was your mission at the outpost?
CR: Our mission was to engage with the locals, interact with the local government, and establish education, and provide economic assistance and help, and support in the area with what they had going on. And to fight what we call the COIN fight or the Counter Insurgency fight. To let the locals know we were there for them, to help them; to integrate with the local forces whether that be the Afghan Border Patrol, or the Afghan Policy Department and support them in their efforts.
CM: Without taking away too much from your book, could you describe what happened that day in 2009 and the experience you had there.
CR: You know it was one of those days I never thought I would experience in my life. It was always one of those moments you always thought “that might happen to some other unit” but unfortunately it was ours. We woke up bright and early to a barrage of rising machine gun fire, sniper fire, recoilless rifles, and RPGs. We quickly, our assessment was that this was not our average everyday troops in contact occasion with the Taliban. This was something very serious. You know, we’ve done our prep work, we know stuff was going on in the area, but you just thought it might, but you couldn’t imagine it happening until it did. In the course of that day, we were faced with almost six to one odds. And the enemy having the high ground above us, the fact that we were the northernmost Coalition presence in the area, you now, air support took a while to get there since we were just outside the range of indirect fire or artillery support. Things very quickly went from bad to worse in the first hour. But you got to see those great men who don the uniform for this country step up and understand that this situation was less than ideal. The terrain we were occupying was less than ideal. Even though you had the odds stacked against you, you see the will and, really the determination and love that motivated them to fight for each other. It wasn’t the hate of what the enemy was doing to us, it was the love for the brother to your left and right that pushed us forward to look at a dire situation and not accept defeat, to not quite. And not accept defeat, to put one more foot forward. To support love like you can’t believe.
CM: How long was it?
CR: We were engaged for almost 13 hours from the time the first round came that morning just before basically nightfall when the air support was able to come in and support us that evening. It was a marathon for sure. A sprint a couple of times during that day, but from sun up to sun down, that evening it was quite a hoedown, I guess I’d call it.
CM: You were even injured too during this engagement, is that correct?
CR: I had a moment when myself and another soldier, Gregory, were trying to maneuverer a machine gun position to help a Humvee that was isolated and cut off. We were trying to provide what we call “covering fire” so that the guys in that Humvee could move. Unfortunately, I got kind of fixated on helping those guys and I made a mistake that I try to teach my guys to not do before combat. To not put blinders on and to always maintain situational awareness. At the time, we didn’t realize that the front gate had already been breached and a group of Taliban fighters had flanked us to the right and ended up firing an RPG into the generator. Luckily it was a good made in America generator that took the brunt of the blast and, in the grand scheme of things; my injuries were pretty mild compared to some of the others that were suffered that day.
CM: Wow, it’s an amazing story of bravery and courage. Clinton, what are you hoping that the book will do? What do you want the American people to know about your story?
CR: I really hope that they read it and they start to recognize the actions of the 52 other Americans I was there with that day. I have had the opportunity to be a little more public and in the spotlight. Yet, if it wasn’t for those other men, I wouldn’t be able to be here. I hope it gives them the chance to see and acknowledge their determination and their heroism. And the eight men who can no longer tell their story. They laid down their lives so we could come home. We have to make sure that their story is told since they can’t tell it. The book is done in such a way so that those who never served… so that, it is written in a style so that that service and sacrifice comes through without having to flip back and forth through 50 pages of military jargon. It’s put in the perspective of what the cost of freedom truly is and that when someone goes and serves it’s not just the soldier it’s the families too that serve and are supporting back home so we can go over there and handle business that way.
CM: Well I think you will accomplish your goal. I felt like I was right there experiencing everything when I was reading it. And did I hear it correctly that Sony Pictures has also snapped up the film rights for Red Platoon as well.
CR: They have. And that has been an interesting process. Obviously that does not mean that a movie will get made, but under the advice of one of the mothers of one of the soldiers we lost… I was a little hesitant getting Hollywood involved but she very eloquently explained to me that, unfortunately, my generation is not the generation of a whole lot of book readers anymore and that, if the opportunity did arise to make a movie, we should so that more people could hear the story of courage and sacrifice and hear the story of Mace, and Gallegos, and Kirk, and Hardt, and Griffin, and Scusa, and Thomson on the big screen. So moving forward, I hope we can accomplish that soon.
CM: We hope so too and if we can help in any way, we will. I promise we are going to promote this hard for you. Staff Sgt. Romesha, thank you so much for your service to our country and taking the time to talk to us today. The nation owes you and your fellow servicemen a great debt of gratitude and we’re so honored to help promote this so others will learn about the bravery on the battle field that day.
CR: Well, I appreciate it, thank you very much for that.
CM: CBC members, make sure to check out conservativebookclub.com and Staff Sgt. Romesha’s new book Red Platoon: a True Story of American Valor now available. Staff Sgt. Romesha, best of luck, hope to talk to you again.
Special thanks to Isaac Woodward for transcribing this interview.
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