Medal of Honor recipients talk to Worcester Tech students

By Scott O'Connell Telegram & Gazette Staff September 16, 2015
WORCESTER – The ride in from Boston on a Black Hawk helicopter must have been cool. And the hundreds of cheering students waiting for him in front of Worcester Tech Wednesday morning was quite a sight.
But the rewards of being a Medal of Honor recipient come at a tremendous price, Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter told a packed auditorium at the high school.
“When I was ignorant, yes,” he said, after a student asked him whether he ever imagined earning the esteemed medal. “But after I was nominated for it, I realized it’s not something you win – it’s not something you want. Basically, you’ve been put through one of the worst experiences in your life.”
The fellow Army soldiers Staff Sgt. Carter lost in the firefight in Afghanistan in 2009 for which he earned the honor weigh heavy on him, he said. His fellow Medal of Honor recipient, Col. Gordon R. Roberts, who joined him on stage Wednesday, echoed his sentiments, telling the students that medals are “not what we’re out doing it for.”
Col. Roberts, who earned his Medal of Honor for his bravery in battle in Vietnam in 1969, said his proudest moment in the Army was a comparatively ordinary moment, when as a young military man he spied his uniformed reflection in a window. His heroes had been soldiers, he said – “all I ever wanted was to be like them.”
In an engaging and at times candid question-and-answer session with students, Col. Roberts and Staff Sgt. Carter covered many other parts of their professional and personal lives, from their reasons for joining the military to the hardships they endured in the service. Both appeared at the school as part of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s annual convention and Patriot Award Gala, which is going on in Massachusetts this week.
Staff Sgt. Carter, who joked about his relatively lacking “Call of Duty” video game skills, also drew laughter when he said he joined the Marines because he didn’t want to “take another four years of English” in college. But he was also frank in addressing why, after returning to civilian life, he decided again to enlist in the Army.
“I had a very difficult time finding and keeping a job,” he said, adding he needed to find a way to pay child support. “It really wasn’t a choice of career, it was a calling – I knew what I was good at.”
Col. Roberts is also proud of his service, but didn’t hold back in sharing a regret he has from his time in the Army: all the moments he missed with his family.
“It’s a horrible price, not just for the soldiers that are deployed, but for the families that have to go through that,” he said. “Just that fear, that somebody’s going to come knocking on your door.”
In many ways, serving in the military is “just like a regular job,” Staff Sgt. Carter said. But you don’t lose co-workers in most other professions. Even worse than the basic training – “three months of constant torment,” he said – and the stressful waiting between events out on deployment, “is when somebody gets hit. These are people you’ve lived with the last two-and-a-half years. These are your family.”
But it’s also what he saw in combat that has strengthened Staff Sgt. Carter’s convictions about what it means to be an American.
“I saw men sacrificing their own ammo, placing themselves in harm’s way to help each other – that’s the type of thing the flag stands for,” he said. “It has nothing to do with politics or religion, it’s about you – what do you believe in?”
Before the two veterans spoke, local officials, including Worcester Tech principal Kyle J. Brenner, Superintendent Melinda J. Boone, Mayor Joseph M. Petty, and Lt. Gov. Karyn E. Polito, urged students in attendance to learn something from Wednesday’s event. City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. pointed out that Worcester has also produced several Medal of Honor recipients of its own.
“They grew up in the same city you’re growing up in,” he told the audience. “Everybody here has the same ability to make a difference.”
Scott O’Connell can be reached at Scott.O’Connell@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottOConnellTG
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