A little under four years ago, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper — who then worked for ABC News — was sitting in a hospital room with his wife and newborn son, when a TV report about a battle in Afghanistan caught his eye.
In November of 2012, Tapper, now the host of the weekday CNN series “The Lead With Jake Tapper,” released his nonfiction book, “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” based on that battle, outlined in this excerpt from a description of of the book:
At 6:00 a.m. on the morning of October 3, 2009, Combat Outpost Keating was viciously attacked by Taliban insurgents. The 53 U.S. troops, having been stationed at the bottom of three steep mountains, were severely outmanned by nearly 400 Taliban fighters. Though the Americans ultimately prevailed, their casualties made it one of the war’s deadliest battles for U.S. forces. And after more than three years in that dangerous and vulnerable valley a mere 14 miles from the Pakistan border, the U.S. abandoned and bombed the camp. A Pentagon investigation later concluded that there was no reason for Outpost Keating to have been there in the first place.
On Wednesday, Aug. 21, CNN airs the primetime special, “Jake Tapper Reports: An Unlikely Hero,” introducing viewers to Army Staff Sergeant Ty Carter, who will soon receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on a day that ultimately saw the loss of eight of Combat Outpost Keating’s 53 inhabitants.
In February, former Army Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha was awarded the nation’s top honor for the same battle. Carter’s honor marks the first time in almost a half-century that one conflict has yielded Medals of Honor for two living service members.
“What I’m really excited about,” Tapper tells Zap2it, “is when I started writing the book, nobody had heard of Combat Outpost Keating. The guys in the troop felt completely unrecognized and ignored. Now, the second one of them is being honored with a Medal of Honor.
“So, the fact that these guys are getting recognition, and the fact that I’m able to contribute to that in any small way, through the book or through the documentary, is something that I’m very happy about.”
Before he joined the Army, Carter had already received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Marines. Civilian life didn’t suit him, and the single father bounced from job to job to support his daughter.
He went back into the military but didn’t mesh as well with his platoon as he hoped. But on one terrible day in Nuristan Province, he risked his life to save his fellow soldiers. To this day, Carter — who is still in the Army — wears a steel band on his wrist bearing the names of eight who didn’t come home.
Carter also is in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and wants to help fellow active service members and veterans working through the unseen wounds of war.
“One of the things that Staff Sergeant Carter wants to talk about,” says Tapper, “the thing he wants to use his new platform to discuss, is post-traumatic stress. He wants to de-stigmatize it; he wants to talk about the need for people who have experienced trauma to seek help.”
While attention paid to PTSD has helped many people seek help, it’s also left Iraq and Afghan War veterans, whether they have a serious PTSD issue or not, with a stigma that they are unstable and even potentially violent, which can lead to difficulty in finding civilian employment.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Tapper. “For people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s important for us to talk about it, but it’s important to talk about it in a responsible way.
“There are 2 million men and women who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they shouldn’t be treated or caricatured as ticking time bombs. By the same token, hundreds of thousands of our troops have PTSD. We, as a society, need to be there for them.”
For Tapper, the experience of researching and writing “The Outpost,” and the feedback from troops and their families that he’s received since, has had a major impact.
“It’s changed my life,” he says, “in terms of paying more attention to troops. A lot of people in Washington, D.C., talk rather glibly about battle and war. Hopefully that’s not a mistake I will ever again make, now knowing so many people who have put their lives on the line; knowing so many people who have lost loved ones in battle.
“It’s also just something I’m constantly aware of, in terms of the sacrifices made by the 1 percent on behalf of the 99 percent.”
Photo/Video credit: Jake Tapper; U.S. Army