We hear what others do in the most dangerous situations and many of us wonder how we would have reacted under the same circumstances. Whether facing a shooter on a train full of people in France or a live grenade in the midst of fellow Marines in Afghanistan, we wonder if we would have risen to the occasion the way that others have responded in real-life situations.
Most of us will never be tested that way. But some are, and do rise to the occasion. We call them "heroes." One of them is Cpl. William "Kyle" Carpenter, USMC, the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor.
On November 21, 2010, Cpl. Carpenter was in Afghanistan, assigned point man on top of a small roof of a building, protecting Marines inside. He knew what it meant to follow in the steps of those courageous Marines who came before him. So when a fellow Marine, and close friend, was threatened by a grenade attack, he rose to the occasion: he threw himself in front of the grenade and saved his friend's life.
Carpenter recently spoke at NSA/CSS as part of the agency's Encouragement Initiative, a series of speaking events meant to inspire and inform the workforce. And that he did! Carpenter told the audience what it meant to be a U.S. Marine and what happened to him that night in Afghanistan. He talked about what he could remember and what he couldn't. He knew only that he was in Afghanistan and his ears were ringing, and he felt the sensation of warm water, due to blood loss.
He fell into unconsciousness and woke up five weeks later in the then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
His courage and endurance were tested constantly for three years during his long and difficult road to recovery. Ultimately, he underwent 40-plus surgeries. But with the help of his own family, his military family, and a dedicated Walter Reed staff who nursed him and encouraged him, and an unmatched determination, Cpl. Carpenter achieved victory.
He set goals for himself, big and small. One of those goals was to "make the famous lap around the nurses" station. Once you get well enough to do that, you make a lap and all the nurses, doctors and everyone at Walter Reed are in the hall, cheering for you and they ring a bell. It's an amazing experience because you know in that moment when they ring the bell and you're in the wheelchair and or your two feet, you know everything is going to be all right. I made that lap and I kept going."
As the audience stood on their feet and gave Cpl. Carpenter a standing ovation, they took a little bit of his cheery demeanor, adventurous heart, quiet humor, and sincere humility with them as they carry out the mission.
ADM Rogers, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, Director of NSA, Chief of the CSS, reminded his workforce that as NSA/CSS is a combat support agency, seeing someone like Cpl. Carpenter, who is on "the lonely edge of the battlefield," demonstrates the human dimension of what we do and why we do it.