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Bravery and Courage at Combat Outpost Keating from a Future Clemson Tiger

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Happy Independence Day!

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US-POLITICS-AFGHANISTAN-AWARD-MILITARY Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Tiger fans will remember Clemson wide receiver and punt returner Daniel Rodriguez. He served in the Army from 2006-2010, attended community college for a year, and then walked-on at Clemson and played from 2012-2014. He was mostly a special teams player, recording a humble 188 snaps and 11 receptions, but he is well known because of his inspiring battlefield to gridiron story.

On this July 4th, I’d like to invite you along with me as I examine the story of American bravery and courage in the Battle of Kamdesh - in which Daniel Rodriguez fought - more broadly than you may have heard before.

American Combat Outpost (COP) Keating was located in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan. It is a rural mountainous region and this particular COP was at the bottom of three steep mountains.

“[It’s] like being in a fishbowl or fighting from the bottom of a paper cup.” - Staff Sergeant, Medal of Honor Recipient, Clint Romesha

“It’s about as far out as any outpost we had in Afghanistan.” - General David Petraeus

Wikipedia

The COP was often attacked by Taliban fighters from the surrounding mountains, but never with overwhelming force the Americans couldn’t dispatch. It had become as routine as being shot at reasonably could. Daniel Rodriguez would later say those smaller disturbances may have been tests from the Taliban to see how they would react.

“We got hit quite a bit. I’d say at least once a day if not twice a day.” - Brad Larson - Squad Leader

After months or perhaps years of planning it, the Taliban initiated their big attack early in the morning on October 3rd, 2009. Over 300 Taliban attacked Combat Outpost Keating from the mountains. It was unlike anything the COP had seen before, and they needed to hold off the assault until air support could come. Unfortunately, their rural location made that a lengthy process.

As machine gun fire, artillery, and RPGs from the high ground rained on COP Keating, the enemy closed in. The Americans were pinned down and Taliban fighters breached the gate. The COP mounted a desperate counteroffensive led by Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha to avoid being overrun. Meanwhile Daniel Rodriguez disregarded his own personal safety running 300 meters under heavy fire to the machine gun he was supposed to man during the encounter.

The Americans’ valiant defense held the Taliban at bay long enough for air support to arrive. Air raids took out enemy artillery and the momentum shifted. The battle raged on for 14 hours before the Taliban finally retreated.

The Americans had finally repelled the Taliban, but eight Americans were killed and another 27 were wounded. An estimated 150 Taliban were killed in the assault. With the damage sustained in fighting and the more obvious than ever vulnerability of the COP’s location, coalition forces decided to withdraw from the base. Looting quickly ensued so they bombed the base to stop ammunition from getting into the wrong hands.

Clint Romesha who led the counteroffensive and Ty Carter who carried an injured man to the aid station while under fire were each awarded the Medal of Honor. Daniel Rodriguez was awarded a Purple Heart after having shrapnel embedded in his neck and leg and bullet fragments lodged in his shoulder and the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device for his heroism in the battle with these injuries.

After Rodriguez’s honorable discharge following the bloody Battle of Kamdesh, he wrestled with post-traumatic stress. In a moment of clarity, he remembered a promise he made to a close friend who had died in combat, to play college football.

He created the recruiting video (below) and it went viral. Coach Swinney took notice and gave him an opportunity to walk-on at Clemson. Daniel Rodriguez earned a spot as a back-up WR and contributor on special teams. After three seasons at Clemson, he had a brief stint in the NFL with the Rams.

“There were 40 Americans and we were overrun by 400 Taliban. I’m walking proof that you can overcome things - great obstacles.” - Daniel Rodriguez

I hope this story brought pride to your heart. If you would enjoy learning more about Daniel Rodriguez and the Battle of Kamdesh, I highly recommend the Medal of Honor series on Netflix. Episodes two and eight focus on this battle and include appearances by Daniel Rodriguez. Additionally, you can check out Rise, a book by Daniel Rodriguez, Red Platoon, a book by Clint Romesha, and Outpost, a new movie that just came out on July 3rd.