Today President Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to retired Army Staff Sargent Clint Romesha, making him only the fourth living recipient of the nation's highest military honor earned during the 12 long years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Romesha's story is a great one. Even on a day when we have the first papal resignation in 600 years and we're anticipating tomorrow's State of the Union Address, we'll no doubt hear something about it on the evening news and the cable channels. But thanks to a dedicated reporter, supported by his book publisher and two television news organizations, we also have the full story and an example of what great reporting can be -- in print and on TV.
Jake Tapper (my former colleagues at ABC News) started his reporting three years ago, when he agreed to do a book for Little Brown. In The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, Tapper tells the story of U.S. Combat Outpost Keating, set up in Nuristan, a remote province in Eastern Afghanistan in an effort to stop Taliban fighters from coming over the border with Pakistan and to win over the local residents. Outpost Keating was located deep in a valley of the Hindu Kush mountain chain to be near the locals, as well as the road by which it would be supplied. Unfortunately, that meant that it was surrounded by steep mountains from which enemy fighters could launch relentless attacks virtually every day.
Staff Sargeant Romesha was there for the end of Outpost Keating. Before dawn on the morning of Oct. 3, 2009, hundreds of Taliban began a coordinated attack on the outpost, firing from various points in the mountains surrounding the base. By the end of the day, eight Americans would lose their lives, the Taliban would breach the defenses to attack from within, and a wounded Romesha would lead a valiant and successful effort to counter-attack and expel the enemy fighters. And for this he would receive the Medal of Honor.
These are the basic facts and, but for Tapper's reporting, they might be all that most of us would ever know about this extraordinary story. But in doing the reporting for his book, Jake interviewed more than 200 people, earning the trust of the soldiers and their families. For three years, he spent nights, weekends, and vacations reporting out the story of Outpost Keating from its beginning in 2006 to its end shortly after the attack that Romesha helped fend off. His book takes us through firefight after firefight, attack after attack, in great detail, giving the reader a sense of just what our soldiers faced day after day.
At the same time he was working on the book, Tapper served full time as the ABC News White House correspondent. To its credit, ABC News sent Tapper over to Afghanistan twice, including on a week-long embed with U.S. forces deployed as close to Nuristan as he could get. And then, after Tapper left ABC News to move to CNN, CNN to its credit turned his interview with Romesha into an hour special, "An American Hero: The Uncommon Valor of Clint Romesha," that aired last week and again over the weekend. Any interview with Romesha would have been compelling, but the time and effort -- the reporting -- Tapper invested made it possible for him to take the Staff Sargent through the events of that day in a way that no one else could have done.
At a time when people are so quick to judge TV news as superficial or glossy, it's important we all pay special attention when there's great, serious work being done for us all. It took an experienced reporter with passion for the story willing to give everything he had. But it also took many other people willing to commit time and resources to bring this story fully to life. It doesn't happen every day. But when it does happen, we should all celebrate it.
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