Author: Clinton Romesha

Title: "Red Platoon – A True Story of American Valor"

Publisher: Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. 2016, with paperback 2017. 376 pages of text with photos throughout. 

Clinton Romesha, who chose to live and work in North Dakota after he left the U.S. Army, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009.

Romesha was a staff sergeant serving as section leader Alpha Section, Red Platoon, 1st Platoon, Bravo Troop, 3-61st Cavalry, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. A very experienced soldier, Romesha had been in the Army for 10 years and had served two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan.

He was trained as a scout: “We are experts in reconnaissance, countersurveillence and navigation, but we’re also extremely comfortable with all aspects of radio and satellite communications. We know how to assemble and deploy three-man hunter/killer teams. We’re pretty good at blowing things up using mines and high explosives. We can function as medics, vehicle mechanics and combat engineers. And we have a thorough understanding of every single weapon system, from a 9-mm handgun to a 120-mm howitzer.”

The 1st Platoon, consisting of an HQ Platoon and Red, White and Blue Platoons of about 20 men each, was stationed at Combat Outpost Keating in Nuristan, Afghanistan. COP Keating “was ensconced in the deepest valley of Nuristan’s Kamdesh District at a spot that resembled the bowl of a toilet. It was surrounded by steep mountains whose summits went as high as 12,000 feet and whose ridge lines would enable an enemy to pour fire down on the outpost while remaining concealed behind a thick scrim of trees and boulders.”

It was in the process of being closed and abandoned when it was attacked by about 300 Taliban.

Romesha’s Red Platoon was on duty, while White Platoon was deployed at OP Fritsche about a mile east and 1,500 feet higher than COP Keating. Its heavy mortars were supposed to provide fire support for COP Keating. Blue Platoon was in a backup role for Red Platoon. As Keating was attacked OP Fritsche was simultaneously attacked by 150 Taliban.

Romesha effectively led Red Platoon soldiers in a constant struggle to defend against the Taliban onslaught, positioning soldiers and weapons to defend COP Keating and to drive back Taliban who made it into the base. Although eight soldiers were killed and 27 wounded, as you read Romesha’s detailed account of the battle and the tremendous and well-coordinated Taliban fire, you wonder how anyone survived, let alone defeated the Taliban after almost 14 hours of combat. You also understand the critical and overwhelming role air power played in helping Red Platoon and others defend themselves.

Romesha does not hesitate to criticize his former company commander who was relieved shortly before the battle, nor does he spare some of the soldiers who simply did not carry their share of the fighting. He particularly was unhappy with a section leader from Blue Platoon who twice failed to show up with some of his soldiers to provide cover and participate in joint attacks to retake positions. I particularly appreciated his truthful narrative about the strengths and weaknesses of the soldiers around him, and how he depended on them and how they depended on his leadership and directions. It is apparent the best of them were well trained and acted in accordance with that training.

Romesha writes, “Odd as it may sound, I don’t remember being scared or worried about dying – or even, for that matter, contemplating those things as possibilities. What I do recall is a sense of pure and absolute focus – a kind of hypercompressed fixation on a single aim, which was putting together a set of specific moves, a running combination of plays, that would enable us to regain the ground we’d lost and take back our ..... house.”

"Red Platoon" is a gripping read that I just could not put down. Romesha writes well and describes the combat events and soldiers with remarkable detail. He did not write this book based on his memory alone, but he traveled and researched extensively to fully make "Red Platoon" a comprehensive history of this battle.

Bob Wefald is a retired North Dakota State District Court judge. Wefald became a lawyer in 1970. His career included serving a year as a law clerk, four years as attorney general, more than 23 years in private practice in Bismarck and 12 years as a judge. He served as an officer in the Navy for three years of active duty plus 24 years in the Navy Reserve.