He had heard the rumors, but he didn’t know what to expect.
“I didn’t pay much attention,” Clinton Romesha said of chatter that he was being considered for recognition for his role in an Oct. 3, 2009, 12-hour firefight in Afghanistan that took the lives of eight fellow soldiers. Romesha, then a staff sergeant with an Army unit that came under attack by a much larger, well-armed Taliban force, is credited with helping save the lives of several soldiers and, despite his own injuries, helping to direct air support.
Then, earlier this month, the phone call came from the White House secretary.
“She said she had the president on the line,” Romesha said.
“I said, ‘OK,’ ” he said during a phone interview with the H&N, adding with a chuckle, “It’s hard to remember all that’s happening when someone tells you the president is waiting to talk with you.”
President Barack Obama informed Romesha he’d been selected to receive an award that’s seldom given, the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. During White House ceremonies set for Feb. 11, he’ll be the fourth living Medal of Honor recipient for the war in Afghanistan and the 11th for the War on Terrorism.
“He gave me a good congratulations,” Romesha recalls of his brief conversation with Obama, adding, “I can’t truly remember what he said. I thanked him and told him it (the medal) was for all the guys.”
Surprise Valley native
It’s a long way from Surprise Valley to the White House.
Romesha, 31, is a Surprise Valley native who still has friends and family in the ranching valley that runs along the west side of Modoc County’s South Warner mountains.
After graduating from Surprise Valley High in 1999, he followed the lead of his father, grandfather and two brothersand enlisted in the Army.
Since leaving the Army in 2011, he and his wife, Tammy, also a Surprise Valley native, and their three children have been living in North Dakota near Minot, where he oversees field safety operations for KS Industries, an oil-industry-related company.
“I’ll be a soldier for life and I miss that life,” he said. His family members urged him to end his service in the Army “It was time to be a dad and a husband.”
He’s working and living in North Dakota, but home is Surprise Valley, he said.
“I’d love to go back home and raise my kids the way my parents raised me.”
Romesha, who was born in the Lake City house where his father and stepmother, Gary and Diana, still live, said his childhood years in Surprise Valley shaped his character.
“It was good to grow up in Surprise Valley. The community is so tight-knit and supportive,” he said. “My family and the people there taught me values … and made me the person I am today. It’s so great to reflect and think of the influences. I want to thank them for the support. There’s just so many people to thank.”
Among those who’ve inspired him is his late grandfather, Aury Smith. Because he suffered from hay fever, Romesha often spent large portions of the summer at his grandfather’s ranch near Vya, a Nevada highway station that’s a 45-minute drive from Surprise Valley. His mother, Martishia Romesha Rogers, now lives at the ranch.
He hopes to soon make at least one visit to see friends and relatives in Surprise Valley, but that — and other aspects of his life — remains on hold until the White House ceremonies and, a day later, another round at the Pentagon.
Most of his family, including his and Tammy’s children — Dessi, 11, Gwen, 3, and Colin, 1 1/2 — will attend the ceremonies, although details are still being arranged. Romesha said he’s been involved in finalizing logistics “and calming the nerves of people skeptical of going to Washington, D.C. It’s a lot different than Surprise Valley.”
Romesha plans to wear his Army uniform “one more time” for the ceremonies. “It’s such an honor. I’ll be a soldier for life.”
He’s been too busy to have butterflies about the White House visit, “but I’m sure I’ll have them about an hour beforehand. I’ll have Tammy with me and she’ll help calm me down.”
While family and select friends will be at the White House, a larger group will be at the Pentagon ceremonies on Feb. 12, including, he hopes, several members of the unit from Afghanistan and other long-time Army friends.
“I just hope I can put into words the feelings I have. Yes, I’m getting the honor, but really it’s for them,” Romesha said, giving credit to his “battle buddies.” “They all know if they can’t make it, we’ll team up again someday.”