OUTPOST SPECIAL: This interview is part of a special feature surrounding the film The Outpost. Click the following links in all caps to read our REVIEW, and our interviews with director ROD LURIE and the author of The Outpost book, CNN’s JAKE TAPPER.
His extraordinary actions during The Battle of Kamdesh earned him the Medal of Honor. Here, Ty Carter reflects on that fateful day, its portrayal in The Outpost, and what his future holds.
INTERVIEW BY MATT TUTHILL
Robert Irvine Magazine: When did you first see the movie, and how difficult is it for you to watch it?
Ty Carter: The first time I saw it was at a private screening. It was right next to the 10-year anniversary of the firefight, so it was October 7th, I think, of last year. It was difficult. I can tell you there were a lot of emotions creeping up. Luckily, I was on the set most of the time, for the filming, so I knew what to expect, but when the director, Rod Lurie, put everything together, it definitely brought up some emotions. The second time I saw it was in DC, and that was when I got to meet a lot of the Gold Star family members. That was very emotional.
But every time I watched it, there are a few specific parts where you have to choke back the tears. But I’ve seen it enough now that it’s to the point where I don’t have a physical, emotional response. It’s more slight and internal and I think the more I submit myself through that, the stronger I’ll be, or the more numb towards it I become. It’s one of those personal therapy things, I guess.
RI: How many times have you seen it?
TC: I’ve seen it 15 to 20 times, at least.
RI: Wow. So you’re deriving therapeutic value from it. What do you want other people to get from it? You must be happy that your fallen comrades have been immortalized.
TC: Yes, that’s the perfect wording for it. I’m very proud of the movie. I brag about it all the time. I try not to be a dick about it, to my friends and family. But they’re very proud of me because of it and all the other things. It’s a big kick to the gut that this whole COVID thing happened and it didn’t go to a lot of theaters. I was lucky enough where it showed up in my hometown here in Bastrop, Texas and it was in theaters for a couple of weeks. There were only about 15 people in the theater, but I saw it on the big sign out front. I was like, “Oh, my God, it’s there.” So I drove up to the theater, spoke to manager, and said, “Hey, what can I do to help?” After the movie, people stayed and then I answered questions.
RI: You left the military in 2014. What are you doing now?
TC: For a while there, I was an educational motivational speaker. I get paid to talk about the firefight, to apply that to leadership and camaraderie and brotherhood, but that’s slowed down dramatically because of COVID.
It picked up a little bit after the Netflix documentary series came out, Medal of Honor. My episode is number eight. They put me in the last episode because my story is specifically unique. So, that helped out. As of right now, I’m enjoying retirement. I still do interviews like this, or if the price is right, I’m willing to travel. But mostly during all this stuff, I’ve just been home doing hobbies. Learning to cook new things. I’m still building black powder guns and stuff like that. I’m teaching myself how to pick weld, and I built my own still to make my own liquor.
RI: What kind of liquor?
TC: Recently, I’m fermenting honey, turning it into mead, and then distilling that into a type of a honeyshine, or honey liquor.
RI: How did you feel about your portrayal in the film? Caleb Landry Jones is a great actor, and I was very moved by his performance. But we see things that are not necessarily flattering about you. Other soldiers and your commanding officers are chewing you out. And at the end of the film, there’s this moment where the female counselor asks you what you’re thinking, and you reply “I think you’re pretty.” It’s a charming moment, but you are portrayed with having this kind of childlike innocence. Did you feel it was fair? Is that a good summation of who you are?
TC: That counselor scene, that’s not in the book. That was added later and it’s mostly factual, because after Combat Outpost Keating burned down… we got helicoptered out. Then that day at FOB Bostick, where we finally arrived, they cleaned us up. They checked us out. They wrote down all of our injuries. Blue Platoon, my platoon, we lost everything because our barracks burned down. All we had was our uniform.
So I lost everything that connected me back home. I had pictures of my daughter being born and as a baby because it wasn’t all digital back then. It was actual pictures and cards. I had a journal in my laptop that I had been keeping for eight years. That was gone. So when we got back and we where shown where we’d be sleeping or staying for the rest of the deployment, because after the firefight, we still had six more months there. We got into several firefights after that as well.
But that evening, the field sergeant pulled us all aside and said, “Hey, you know what? That was a very hard day. Now that it’s quiet and we’re safe, is when the emotion is going to start to kick in. There are counselors flown in and available.”
I barely heard what was going on. I just wanted to get back to my bunk and bury my face in a pillow and pass out for the next two weeks. So I said, “All right, have a good night,” Sergeant Hill puts his hand on my shoulder and he says, “You of all people need to go down there.”
Right then, I lost it. I started crying, and then he actually walked me to get into the counselor’s office and sat in the counselor’s office with the captain, Katie Kopp, as I was crying and explaining what was going on and what was in my head. While I was doing that, I also complimented Captain Kopp that she was very pretty. So here I am crying, but then saying that she’s pretty. So that actually happened.
RI: How about moments earlier in the film where we see that they’re screaming at you to move faster. You need to get the ammo around quicker. You need to do your job better. Is that accurate?
TC: Yes, because I had prior service in the Marine Corps. I got out of the Marine Corps, spent five years as a civilian, went through a divorce and couldn’t afford to pay child support, so I joined the Army.
And in the Army, no matter what I did, everything seemed to be wrong. They didn’t like me, and no matter what I did, it was usually wrong. So I developed an attitude. They had an attitude. I was the outsider or as one person put it, I was a Marine pretending to be Army.
There’s always that “Who’s better than who?” thing going on. The Marine Corps gives the Army shit. The Navy gives the Marine Corps shit. The Marine Corps and Army give the Navy shit, and all three branches give the Air Force shit.
It’s the same thing as a red, white, and blue platoon. Different platoons don’t get along. There’s always that challenge to each other. Who’s better? So here I am outmanned and outnumbered with a bunch of Army douchebags, and I’m the Marine. So they were dicks to me, and I was a dick to them because I’m not going to take that shit.
RI: Nor should you. It’s amazing that all of that is accurate.
TC: I made sure of that. I asked the director, I was like, “Look, you can put whatever you want here, as long as it’s honest.” So he made sure that Caleb was seen as an outsider or “too serious,” is what most people would call it. Because I was there to do a job, not to do stupid initiation games. I did all that bullshit in the Marine Corps when I was their age. So here I am a low rank, high age. If the rank and age were matching, I should have been a Staff Sergeant or Sergeant First Class by then. But no, here I am as a D4 specialist at 28, 29 years old, dealing with a bunch of 18, 19 year olds who were my same rank. I’m not going to fit in.
RI: How did you feel about Caleb Landry Jones? Did he want to spend time with you to nail down your character traits?
TC: We hung out a couple of times before filming started. The first time I met him, I was surprised, negatively surprised, because he’s the total opposite of what I am. When I first saw him at the airport, he had a guitar strung around his back. His jeans were inside his cowboy boots. He had long hair and he spoke like a California surfer stoner. That is totally not me. So he did an excellent job learning and adapting. I still have issues with how skinny he is because I do a lot of weightlifting. I’m a thick dude in that kind of way. But I think he portrayed the attitude and the emotions really well, and we’ll still talk. I call him and he still calls me every once in a while.
RI: So you urged Rod Lurie to be honest. Was there ever a point in filming where you wanted to correct Rod and say, “Actually, no, he was standing over there. I was over here. It looked more like this.” Did you have any moments like that?
TC: I actually got a polite verbal reprimand because the actors would come and ask me questions on what would be the right way to do something in a scene. But they had an official military advisor there. So the actors would come to me, and I would tell them what I would do or what I would say. Then they change the scene and they do that. Then Rod would be like, “What the hell is going on?” So Rod had to talk to me and go, “Look, for your spots or what you did, I’m coming directly to you. If you have any recommendations on any other scenes, you go directly to Jariko (Denman) and Jariko will come to me. So unless I ask you a direct question, please stop talking to my actors.”
RI: I could see how that kind of thing might spiral out of control.
TC: And plus, Rod had the vision of what he wanted and how to get there to put it on screen. I know what happened and how people did their thing, but sometimes it would not work on screen. So I politely said, “Okay. I understand.” After that, when an actor came in and talked to me, I would actually ask Jericho to join us and we would discuss it together. Then Jariko could inform Rod Lurie, and then find a happy in-between there. So it was interesting. It was fun, learning the politics of movie making.
RI: The Medal of Honor is not awarded for just doing your job, but for going far above and beyond the call of duty and risking your life for your fellow soldiers. When you chose to expose yourself to enemy fire in the way that you did, was it a conscious decision or was the fog of war so great that you feel like you instinctually reacted? As you’ve looked back on that moment, and now as you’ve seen this movie 15 times, are you able to put your finger on a moment where you decided to do the things you did?
TC: Yes, a very, very specific time. I think I was a teenager, before the Marine Corps, and Saving Private Ryan came out. There’s a scene where the little nerdy guy, the linguist, he is supposed to run ammo. Well, he was trying to run ammo, but then he let fear stop him. It ends up resulting in the death of a comrade. Right then in my head, I told myself if I’m ever in a situation like that, I will never freeze.
So this whole time I’m training, I’m saying, “Never freeze, you chose this. If you don’t give yourself the option to quit, then you won’t.” So I never gave myself the option. It was just, “This is my job. If I fail my job, then one of my brothers might be injured or killed.”
When it was time to run ammo—and that was my job any time there’s a firefight—it just became routine. When all these bullets were landing in that quantity or volume—because I’ve never seen it like that before— the more bullet impacts I saw, the faster I ran. I started getting tunnel vision, to where I only saw what was in front of me. The faster you run, the less chance of being hit.
So, it was a build-up of a self-choice from way in the past, that manifested itself on this particular day. I just did not stop. As soon as you can stop and slow down, the fear kicks in and you start to second guess yourself. You just go, go, go, and then worry about it later, if you survive.
RI: That’s unbelievable. Before that day, did you know that you had that courage within you? If it came down to it, did you know you could do something extraordinary?
TC: I don’t call it courage. I think it’s more of a habit, where you get this kind of numbness. Don’t get me wrong. I was scared to death, but some things just need to happen. I did it. So if you want to call that courage or bravery, fine, but it just became a reflex in a way.
RI: A story in The Atlantic recently came out in which President Trump was reported to have referred to wounded soldiers or soldiers killed in action as losers and suckers. I was curious if you had thoughts about that.
TC: I don’t. I think out of the presidents that I’ve been alive for, Trump has supported our military, law enforcement, and first responders more than any other president. So whatever that accusation is, I don’t believe it’s true. I think it’s an election year and they’re just trying to turn it into a food-throwing contest.
RI: What else do you want the readers to know? The floor is yours.
TC: I’m really happy and proud of the scene at the end with the counselor, to let people know that you can be courageous. You can be brave. You can do all these wonderful things. But there’s still consequences. Whether it’s physically injured or it’s mentally inured, you need to get treatment for it. Being a Medal of Honor recipient, I’ve been very strong on removing the D from post traumatic stress. It’s not a disorder. It’s supposed to happen naturally. And if that’s the case, why are we treating it like a disease?
Why are people refusing to seek help when they need it? So by putting that scene at the end, it lets people know that they can be as strong as you want until they can’t anymore. It brings all those individuals—military, first responders, police officers—together and lets them know when something happens, you’re going to feel it and it’s okay to get counseling. That’s why I’m glad he put that in there. It’s okay to seek help if you’re hurting internally.