The Fighting Cameraman

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COMBAT cameraman Spc. Michael D. Carter is an ordinary Soldier who did something extraordinary. In a horrific battle in Afghanistan last year, he traded his camera for a rifle and heroically saved the lives of several Green Berets, some of the Army's toughest and most highly trained Soldiers. Today, he wears the Silver Star as a result.

A soft-spoken, clean-cut young Soldier, Carter is like many servicemembers I've had the privilege to interview: humble and reluctant to brag about or even discuss his accomplishments. He was too polite to say so, but I quickly realized that he was doing me a huge favor by opening up about what had to have been one of the worst days of his life.

According to Combat Camera's historical records, he is the first Army combat cameraman to ever be awarded the Silver Star, and his story and that of Team 3336 of the 3rd Special Forces Group to which he was attached, is one of selflessness and heroism--one that has amazed even the most hardened and battle-scarred of generals and combat veterans.

Growing up listening to his grandfathers and uncles who had served in the Army and Marine Corps, Carter always wanted to join the Army. He itched with impatience after he was first assigned to a non-deployable training unit in Germany. As soon as his two years were up, he requested a re-assignment to a unit he could deploy with, but when he arrived at the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) at Fort Meade, Md., he found they weren't expected to go anywhere.

"When I first got here, I was pumped and everything else until the day I signed in," he remembered. "They're like, 'Yeah, we're on a hiatus right now. We're taking a break.' I'm like, 'Huh?' They're like, 'Yeah, we're not going to deploy for a little while.' I got a little bit mad. Then I was like, 'Okay, whatever. It happens. I'll get my time.'"

So when Special Operations Command Central came knocking after he had been there a few months, looking for someone to document missions in Afghanistan, Carter eagerly volunteered. He was in country about a month later in June 2007, without even undergoing additional special operations training.

Most special forces Soldiers rotate in and out of theater every six months, but Carter spent almost a year in Afghanistan, going out an average of three to four times a week and participating in and documenting a variety of missions, such as snatch-and-grabs, cordons and humanitarian aid.

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In fact, he was supposed to be done; he had completed his final mission and was ready to go home. But on April 6, 2008, his sergeant had "pink eye," and couldn't go on an operation with Team 3336 and Afghan commandos to a remote mountain village in the Shok Valley. He asked Carter to take his place. Neither of them could have imagined the horror to come.

Things went south almost immediately when the helicopters were unable to land and the Soldiers had to jump about 10 feet to the ground into icy water before beginning a grueling uphill trek on foot to the village, which was about 10,000 feet above sea level.

They only made it partway, and much of the six-and-a-half-hour battle that followed remains a blur to Carter.

"'What was it like?' I haven't really been asked that question yet," he told me. "I've sort of been hiding away from everybody and doing interviews. 'What was it like?' It was just a bad situation.

"When it all happened, when it all kicked off, I don't know what was going through my mind. I had a lot of people who asked me that when I came back. I didn't have time to think about what was going on. I just reacted.

"I don't remember thinking about anything. I was just sitting there, going off and doing stuff, helping those guys out," he continued, leaning forward in his seat, pausing frequently and shaking his head as though he still couldn't believe what went down that day. …