When Spc.Ty Carter first arrived in Afghanistan, he took one look at his surroundings and thought, "This is a death trap."
He would soon learn just how right he was.
Combat Outpost Keating was a sitting target for nearby Taliban insurgents: It sat deep within a valley, surrounded by mountains.
The American soldiers stationed there knew it was only a matter of time before something bad happened. "We just didn't know when," Carter said.
When it did, the assault would set in motion a chaotic chain of events that had every soldier certain he would not make it out alive.
Eight American soldiers died on Oct. 3, 2009. Many of the 45 others who survived, including Carter, struggle with the guilt that they couldn't save more lives.
Yet Carter's daring efforts to rescue his fellow soldiers in the face of imminent death earned him the nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, which he will receive on Monday at a White House ceremony.
Now Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, 33, will join another survivor of that battle, former Army Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha, who received the award earlier this year. It marks the first time in nearly half a century that two living soldiers from the same battle received the Medal of Honor.
To Carter, it's a bittersweet award.
"It just brings back all those memories of what he had to go through," explained his wife, Shannon Derby.
Discharged from the Marines
Carter was a loner as a teenager. He didn't have a lot of friends. His older brother Seth had a knack for getting into trouble, and Ty followed in his footsteps for awhile before his mother kicked Seth out of the house.
Not exactly hero material, he says.
Carter joined the Marines in 1998, spending five years in the service until a fight with a roommate led to his demotion. Two months later, he was honorably discharged.
So, it was back to civilian life, something that left Carter restless and bored. He bounced across the country from job to job: more than a dozen stints in five years, everything from a yacht repairman to a tow-truck operator.
He was supporting his daughter after his first marriage ended. But in every job, something was always missing.
"There was no motivation, there was no purpose," Carter said. "It felt like I was a drone."
He hated the punch-in-punch-out lifestyle of making ends meet, and fondly recalled military life.
"I was thinking 'Well man, back in the service ... I was doing what I enjoyed and I was actually happy to wake up in the morning, happy to go to work,'" he said.
So he enlisted in the Army in 2008. But military life wasn't the idyllic place he remembered.
"We had a platoon full of guys that were on a lighter side of life (who) liked to joke around," retired Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Hill recalled. "And Carter never really got involved ... he thought it was immature.
"Carter really didn't make friends with a lot of guys, and he struggled with it."
A little over a year after he enlisted, Carter and his platoon were deployed to eastern Afghanistan in May 2009.
Despite his aloofness toward his fellow soldiers, Carter would find himself in a situation where he didn't think twice to risk his life for those men whose jokes he once found childish.