VAIL — A Vail Veterans Program alumnus has ascended mountains and now has ascended to the nation’s highest military honor.
Kyle Carpenter was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan.
“I know that whatever comes, really I just want to use (my Medal of Honor) to make a positive impact on people’s lives — help people and just try to make my community and hopefully the world better …” Carpenter said.
Vail Veterans Program founder and director Cheryl Jensen was invited to the White House for the ceremony in June.
“The most memorable moment for me was when I was sitting in the East Room just prior to the start of the ceremony when all of a sudden you hear the music of ‘Hail to the Chief’ and then saw President Obama, Michelle Obama and Kyle walk in together. It was a powerful moment,” Jensen said.
Just getting started
Carpenter, still just 24, said he is just getting started.
On Nov. 21, 2010, Carpenter was deployed with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines when he used his body to absorb the blast of a grenade that was thrown into the rooftop position he shared with another Marine. He wears a tattoo of a Purple Heart on his left forearm and a Bible verse on his rib cage.
He said he wants to finish a degree at the University of South Carolina — possibly in psychology — and help others. He has skied, fished and golfed in Vail with the Vail Veterans Program, ran a marathon, sky-dived and completed a mud-run competition since being injured, and he pushed through physical therapy and surgeries to retire medically from the Marines.
“It was truly a great honor to attend not only for the Vail Veterans Program, but for our entire community as I was there as a representative of all of those who have supported our efforts,” Jensen said. “President Obama even mentioned Kyle’s love for skiing and snowboarding in his remarks. It truly shows the lasting effects our program has on our military injured.”
Carpenter, 24, lunged at a hand grenade after an insurgent tossed it at him and another Marine, Lance Cpl. Nick Eufrazio, while they manned a rooftop security post in a small, dusty compound in Marjah, Afghanistan.
“When the grenade hit me ... I almost felt like my whole body and face especially was just hit really hard with a 2-by-4. ... The last few things I remember were, I felt like warm water was being poured all over me from the blood coming out. ... I searched with my tongue and I couldn’t feel any of my jaw because of the trauma and everything that was missing,” Carpenter said recalling the incident.
Carpenter’s vital signs flat-lined numerous times after he was injured, but he was resuscitated each time.
“I remember my buddies yelling at me. It sounded like they were a football field away. I remember them yelling, ‘You are going to make it, you are going to make it.’ And I remember trying to tell them that I was going to die and I wasn’t going to make it,” Carpenter said.
He said he thought of his family, and it upset him knowing how devastated and upset they would be. He made peace with God, and six weeks later he woke up in Bethesda, Maryland.
He said when the president put the Medal of Honor around his neck during the ceremony, he thought of Marines who fought everywhere from the trenches of World War I to the icy battlefields of Korea to cities in Iraq like Baghdad, Ramadi and Fallujah. He said he thinks about the Marines he served with in Marjah.
“If I close my eyes today, I can still hear their desperate med-evacs being called out over the radio as they bled out in the fields of Afghanistan. Today, I accept the medal for them. I will wear it for every person who makes up our great nation,” he said during the ceremony.
He still says the camaraderie made Afghanistan his best time in the Marines.
“There will never be a time where I am sleeping in the dirt and I haven’t showered in four months and I am with 50 other people who I will be the closest with ever. So I guess if I look at it that way, I am very thankful for Afghanistan. It really means a lot to me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he said.
The U.S. involvement in the Middle East may wind down, but the healing goes on. Jensen said the Vail Veterans Program will reach out to its alumni for the rest of their lives.
“Vail holds a special place in their souls as it is a place of healing for those who have attended our program,” Jensen said. “It is important to continue the outreach because so many of our veterans feel isolated and forgotten about as the years pass. It is our commitment to them to make sure they know that we still care as time goes on.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.