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March 08, 2013

People

181st NCO attends friend’s Medal of Honor ceremony

By Capt. Rob Lodewick, 181st Infantry Brigade Public Affairs Officer

Soldiers frequently have the privilege of standing in formation while a fellow Soldier is awarded a Commander’s Coin, selected Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) of the Month, or recognized with a Permanent Change of Station award.
PHOTO: Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Harris (left) of the 181st Infantry Brigade at Fort McCoy reunites with his long-time military friend, Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, at the White House. Contributed photo
Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Harris (left) of the 181st Infantry Brigade at Fort McCoy reunites with his long-time military friend, Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, at the White House. Harris received an invitation from the White House to attend the ceremony where Romesha received the Medal of Honor for his actions during a battle in Afghanistan.
(Contributed photo)

However, very few are privileged enough to stand in the East Room of the White House while the president presents their battle buddy from basic training with the nation’s highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor. Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Harris from Fort McCoy’s 181st Infantry Brigade, part of First Army, lived this experience Feb. 11.

Harris, a trainer/mentor assigned to 1st Battalion, 310th Infantry, received an invitation from the White House to attend the ceremony presenting the Medal of Honor to his long-time friend, Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha.

Romesha received the Medal of Honor for distinguishing himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Romesha did so while engaged in an action against the enemy during the October 2009 defense of Combat Outpost (COP) Keating, in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province. Romesha’s gallant actions under fire proved critical at suppressing an enemy force of more than 300 fighters, and in organizing an effective counterattack, which eventually allowed his troop to secure the COP, according to the award citation.

An estimated 150 enemy combatants were killed in the fight, while 22 Americans were wounded and eight U.S. Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice and died, in what remains one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghanistan Campaign.

Harris first met Romesha in 1999 when they attended Combat Basic Training together at Fort Knox, Ky. As 19K series tank crewmen, their friendship continued throughout their first duty assignment to the 1st Infantry Division in Vilseck, Germany and throughout a deployment to Kosovo with the 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment.

“During our training exercises, Staff Sergeant Romesha always set the standard, knowing not only his job inside and out, but that of the positions above him as well,” Harris said. “As a private first class, he frequently was called upon to fulfill roles and responsibilities of an E-5 (sergeant) or higher.”

As their paths continued to cross over the next 11 years, the two NCOs and their Families remained good friends throughout their Army careers.

Romesha left the military in 2011 to spend more time with his Family.

Harris was very honored to receive the personal invitation to the ceremony and immediately made plans to travel to the nation’s capital. His three days in Washington, D.C. included a personal tour of the White House, attendance at ceremonies in both the East Room and the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, a private gathering at their hotel hosted by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler, and numerous opportunities to re-unite with and embrace old friends. Though unable to personally meet his Commander in Chief, President Obama, Harris was proud to have met and talked with many distinguished military and political leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Harris remains very grateful for the opportunity to attend such a prestigious award ceremony and was thankful to have shared in the opportunity to recognize the gallantry of his long-time friend and fellow Soldier, while also honoring the memory of the eight American servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation.

“Staff Sergeant Romesha cares about his fellow Soldiers, their Families and his friends,” said Harris. “His tank crews knew gunnery tactics inside and out, and he frequently spent his off-duty time helping Soldiers study for upcoming boards and exams. He always was someone you could count on and was always there, through the good times and the bad.”

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