Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Ty Carter likes to sing karaoke to relieve stress. He says all people, military and civilian, 'have a little bit of post-traumatic stress in some way, shape or form.' (Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures for USA Today)
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When it comes to crooning, Staff Sgt. Carter says he likes to channel country superstar Brad Paisley. (Joel Ryan/Invision/AP Images)
Staff Sgt. Ty Carter’s life has “completely changed” in the eight months since he was awarded the Medal of Honor, but he still finds comfort in an old pastime.
“Everywhere I go, if I’ve got free time, I ask the people there if there’s a karaoke bar in town,” he said. “That’s usually where I end up.”
Getting up in front of a crowd and letting loose helps him relax, said Carter, whose most recent mission is to educate service members and the public about post-traumatic stress.
Karaoke is a “stress reliever,” he said, and it’s helped him hone his public speaking skills and be more articulate.
More importantly, Carter said, “It’s fun. You go out there and hang out and try new stuff. You embarrass yourself, and it’s OK.”
Carter is on the road about three weeks a month, and he uses his story to encourage others seek help.
“I used to be a section leader of a scout platoon,” he said. “[Now] my entire job consists of traveling all over the United States talking about or trying to educate the services and the American people about the unseen wounds of war.”
The travel wears on him sometimes, he said, but the memory of his fallen brothers keeps him going.
“When you believe in what you say and what you’re doing, it’s not really work,” Carter said. “Plus, I feel I owe a debt to those who died.”
The D in PTSD is 'insulting'
Carter, 34, received the Medal of Honor on Aug. 26 for his actions at Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan.
Before sunrise on Oct. 3, 2009, an enemy force numbering almost 400 attacked COP Keating, firing on the small force of U.S. soldiers from all directions.
Carter, who is now assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is credited with braving fierce enemy fire to resupply his fellow soldiers and treat and carry the severely wounded Spc. Stephan Mace to safety during one of the largest, most vicious battles against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Eight soldiers, including Mace, from B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, gave their lives that day.
Carter and former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha were honored for their actions at COP Keating. They are the first two surviving soldiers since the Vietnam War to receive the nation’s highest award for valor for actions in the same battle.
Carter has been open about his struggle with post-traumatic stress, crediting his former platoon sergeant, then-Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Hill, for making sure he got the help he needed.
In his travels since receiving the Medal of Honor, Carter said he has learned much more about post-traumatic stress, and he believes the word “disorder” should be removed from the equation.
“We all have a little bit of post-traumatic stress in some way, shape or form, but we’re all individuals, so it affects our bodies and minds differently,” he said. “It’s not a disorder.”
Calling post-traumatic stress a disorder is “insulting,” Carter said.
He spent two and a half years in counseling after the battle at COP Keating. These days, he no longer needs counseling for his memories from that day, but he still reaches out sometimes to his counselor.
“A lot of my stress is from airports and flying,” he said. “The fact that I can’t lead soldiers anymore or I can’t deploy anymore, that kind of causes stress, because that’s what I signed up for. But my new mission of educating people about post-traumatic stress and [traumatic brain injury] has become kind of who I am, and I’ve learned to accept that.”
Carter receives numerous requests for his time — so far this year, he’s received more than 100.
He has spoken to groups such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Boy Scouts of America and the Defenders of Freedom.
He often visits different units and organizations on post at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to talk about resiliency and post-traumatic stress, he said.
“Because there’s a lot of pain in my story, the people I’m speaking to, they reflect on their own lives,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve spoken in front of a group without one person choking up or tearing up.”
Carter said he doesn’t want to upset the people who attend his events, but he also wants them to know it’s OK to seek help and healing is possible.
'Mud on the Tires'
Life as a Medal of Honor recipient does have its lighter moments.
In March, Carter visited the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in Texas, and he got to meet the man whose songs he sings most often in karaoke.
“I’m a huge Brad Paisley fan,” he said.
Carter also met other country music royalty, including Reba McEntire, The Band Perry, and Big & Rich, and he shook hands with former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush.
Carter, who started singing as a young boy in church and in the backseat of the car while riding along with his mom and sister, got the chance to tell Paisley about his karaoke song choices.
“When I met Brad Paisley, I told him, ‘I sing all of your songs,’ ” Carter said. “My favorite songs are … usually ‘I’m Gonna Miss Her,’ or ‘I’m Still a Guy.’ Once I’m warmed up, ‘Mud on the Tires.’ ”
But don’t pigeonhole Carter. He also will sing some Toby Keith, a little bit of George Michael, and even Godsmack or Nine Inch Nails.
Carter managed to get fellow Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta, a former staff sergeant and the first living recipient from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, into a karaoke bar.
“We were in Gainesville, Texas, for an event, and I was able to drag Sal Giunta and a couple other recipient family members out there,” he said. “We had a blast.”
Giunta didn’t sing, however, preferring to watch the others from the sidelines, Carter said.
Carter said he looks forward to more karaoke nights, despite his busy schedule.
“I’m definitely not the best, but I’m also not the worst,” he said. “Just being in the middle makes it fun.”
As for his future and whether he plans to stay in the Army, Carter said he’s enjoying what he’s doing now.
“I’ve found my new purpose,” he said.