Far from the nightmares of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Clint Romesha has now come home — truly home. The decorated Army veteran — recipient of the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military honor — feels that homecoming every day he walks into his new house.
“I’ve lived in so many places in my life — Korea, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colorado … the list just goes on,” he said. “While I’ve had a lot of places to stay, I can’t really look back and say I had a home (until now).”
For Romesha, home is where his family’s heart is these days — including fiancee Kelli Bergo and their six children combined: “It’s not just a place to stay, but a place to hang up the family pictures, paint the kids’ rooms, and put our mark on as we grow together,” he said.
In late September, Romesha (pronounced RO-mah-shay) became the latest veteran to receive a mortgage-free home from Wells Fargo and San Antonio-based nonprofit Military Warriors Support Foundation. The collaboration has donated nearly 400 homes and 30 new vehicles to combat-wounded veterans and their families since 2012 and 2015, respectively.
Romesha received the keys to his home on a chilly, emotional day in Minot, North Dakota, where he has lived since 2011 after returning from deployment and finding work in the oil industry there. Volunteers from Wells Fargo and the foundation prepared for the big day by putting the final touches on the house.
“I’ve lived in so many places in my life — Korea, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colorado ... the list just goes on. While I’ve had a lot of places to stay, I can’t really look back and say I had a home (until now).”
— Clint Romesha
“It’s been just a real blessing to see the connection between Military Warriors Support and Wells Fargo,” he said. “They understand that so many veterans who are transitioning (to civilian life) really need a little help. And Wells Fargo has just been serving that up for so long now. Their work with the foundation just goes hand in hand. It’s such an amazing relationship that now I’m a direct beneficiary of. I thank them from the bottom on my heart.”
“This home awarding is special for many reasons,” said Ken Eakes, executive director of Military Warriors Support Foundation. “It is special because of the extraordinary circumstances of Clint’s service, as well as this being the 50th state that we’ve presented a home in over the years. Our mission is to help combat-wounded veterans, Gold Star spouses, and their families transition to civilian life. This goal has never been more clear or more effective.”
Perry Hilzendeger, executive vice president of Wells Fargo Home Lending, said the most memorable moment is seeing the look in the eyes of veterans and their families when they see their new home for the first time.
“For the Romeshas, this was the first home they would own together as a new family,” he said. “A new home means a fresh start and a place to make new memories. I was honored to be able to hand over the key and witness Clint and his family make their first memory in their new home.”
The Battle of Kamdesh
After two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, Romesha’s return to the civilian world nearly a decade ago was marked by highs and lows. The retired U.S. Army staff sergeant was hailed as a hero for wounded combat valor in the Battle of Kamdesh at the remote Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan.
In 2013, he received the Medal of Honor for leading the counterattack that beat back a Taliban force that had overrun the outmanned fort.
Book and movie deals soon followed. The book, “Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor,” became a New York Times Bestseller in 2016, and Sony Pictures acquired the movie rights shortly after publication. Preproduction of the film is still underway.
Despite such achievements, Romesha said he was reluctant to do any of it. Never one to see himself as a hero, he points instead to eight fellow soldiers who died in Kamdesh as the real heroes who gave their all: Pfc. Kevin Thomson, Sgt. Michael Scusa, Sgt. Joshua Kirk, Sgt. Christopher Griffin, Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, Staff Sgt. Vernon Martin, Sgt. Joshua Hardt, and Spc. Stephan Mace.
Through the years, Romesha has become close to the fallen soldiers’ families — the Gold Star families, in military parlance — and it was only after consulting with them that he agreed to tell his story in book and film.
“They told me that I was in a position now to tell the real story, a firsthand account,” he said. “Nobody can tell it better than the ones who were there, they told me. Don’t let those who were lost be forgotten. So I began to think it was actually selfish of me not to do a book.”
"Red Platoon’s" many heroes
Romesha did tell the story of his Keating band of brothers in gripping detail — their courage, casualties, and heroics against steep enemy odds. In “Red Platoon”, readers see the gritty humanity of the heroes, their bond, and the resilience that fueled their bravery in battle as hundreds of Taliban fighters assaulted the 50-man fort.
The book has won praise across the spectrum, from authors to military leaders.
“A vitally important story that needs to be understood by the public, and I cannot imagine an account that does it better justice that Romesha’s,” said noted author/war correspondent Sebastian Junger.
“Red Platoon” will probably prove to be the definitive literary contribution of the war in Afghanistan,” wrote reviewer J. Kemper Campbell in the Lincoln Journal-Star.
In the aftermath of Kamdesh, the military bestowed nearly 70 medals on the soldiers who fought that day. Along with Romesha, Sgt. Ty Carter also received the Medal of Honor for his bravery in the battle.
‘He saved everyone on that outpost’
In “Red Platoon”, Romesha’s role in Kamdesh is so understated, many readers would be surprised to find out how important it really was. But his role was very clear to Sgt. Brad Larson, a Kamdesh veteran who served with Romesha.
“I wholeheartedly believe he single-handedly saved the lives of everybody on that outpost,” Larson told National Journal in 2013, when Romesha received the Medal of Honor. “He took it upon himself to take Outpost Keating back. I'm glad he's getting an award for it.”
For Romesha, all the combat medals and book accolades take a back seat to his mission now, which is to honor those who gave all and raise public awareness about the needs of returning veterans. His own transition back to civilian life has not been an easy one. Surprisingly, neither the book deal nor the movie that is in the works have been a big financial boom, he said. And his longtime marriage to his high school sweetheart ended several years ago, leaving him alone in a rented apartment.
He credits his fiancee Kelli Bergo for bringing love and healing to his life, and Military Warriors Support and Wells Fargo for helping him get back on his feet, through mentoring, personal and financial counseling, and the home donation.
“We are honored to work with Military Warriors Support in helping returning service members with their unique housing needs. Our ability to support Staff Sgt. Romesha is yet another inflection point in addressing the needs for transitioning service members. We are proud to support him and so many other veterans who make the sacrifices so we can live free.”
— Jerry Quinn
“Every veteran goes through things in their transition back, and I did too, like going through divorce,” he said. “But Military Warriors Support stepped in and saw that I needed a little assistance. Then Wells Fargo stepped in and secured the house for us. I’ve just been very blessed, coming out of the military, to get all these opportunities.”
For Wells Fargo, Romesha represents a milestone as the first Medal of Honor recipient in its home donation effort, said Jerry Quinn, head of the company’s Military Affairs Program. Wells Fargo’s overall support for veterans and their families through housing, mentoring, and financial education now totals more than $170 million since 2012, according to the latest data.
“We are honored to work with Military Warriors Support in helping returning service members with their unique housing needs,” Quinn said. “Our ability to support Staff Sgt. Romesha is yet another inflection point in addressing the needs for transitioning service members. We are proud to support him and so many other veterans who make the sacrifices so we can live free.”