Thursday, October 17, 2013

Medal of Honor


Click here for related story [Washington Post]

On 14 October 2013, Captain William Swenson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor and gallantry in combat in 2009, saving the lives of his wounded soldiers, and retrieving the bodies of his dead soldiers.  His fellow soldiers were awarded the highest military combat awards, ranging from the Medal of Honor [posthumous] to the Navy Cross -- in 2011.


A graduate of Seattle University, he enlisted in the Army and was commissioned through Officer Candidate School. In his earlier two deployments to Iraq, he was awarded three Bronze Star medals, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

The battle for which Swenson's Medal was awarded took place as a result of a Taliban ambush in Kunar Province.

Captain Swenson was leading a routine mission with his troops to train local Afghan soldiers and to establish goodwill with the local Afghan elders.  Entering a valley, they were, in military terms, "canalized into a Kill Zone", with Taliban holding the high ground firing from three sides down into the US-led force of 80 Afghan troops and 11 American troops.  Five Americans and 11 Afghans were killed.

Facing Taliban fighters who had advanced to within 50 meters of his perimeter, Captain Swenson, wounded, raced into the firefight, enduring withering fire, and pulled several of his wounded men [Afghan and US] to safety at great risk to his own life.  He then ventured out into the fire fight again to retrieve the bodies of his dead soldiers.

Video of reconstructed actions.


Throughout this six hour battle, Captain Swenson repeatedly radioed for air and artillery support -- which never came.  After the battle, Captain Swenson made formal complaints that his chain of command had rejected his repeated calls for air and artillery support - resulting in the needless deaths of his troops.

Two officers in Swenson's chain of command received reprimands for negligence, but, in turn, his chain of command turned him into a scapegoat.  One of Swenson's NCOs, Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer, was named by Marine General James Amos as a Medal of Honor nominee, while two other Marines were nominated for the Navy Cross.  Those awards were presented in 2011.

Sergeant Meyer nominated Swenson for the Medal of Honor in 2009, but mysteriously, Swenson's nomination paperwork was "lost".  Apparently, Captain Swenson was reportedly forced to leave the Army in 2011, likely due to his criticism of his senior officers.

That nomination is here somewhere
The nomination papers for Swenson's Medal of Honor "... inexplicably vanished from every military computer system midway through the approval process in 2010."  After Sergeant Meyer raised the issue in a letter to the National Security Council, Marine General John Allen reopened the process, leading to the award reaching the President's desk.

Representative Duncan Hunter [R-CA], a Marine officer prior to his political career, took on the Pentagon to push the award forward and to demand an investigation into how the nomination had "disappeared".


Interestingly, General Petraeus, the US Military commander in Afghanistan in 2010, denied ever seeing Swenson's nomination packet; in reality, General Petraeus signed the nomination packet on 28 July 2010. 

As War Historian Doug Sterner advised:
"A Medal of Honor packet doesn't get lost unless somebody wants it to get lost."

We're curious as to the identities of the officers who refused Captain Swenson's requests for fire support, and for the names of all the officers in the chain of custody for the nomination.

As a footnote, take a look at the 4-Star generals filling the top command slots in today's military; how many of them wear the Combat Infantryman's Badge, or have other than administrative medals.

Captain Swenson has applied to return to Active Duty; the Army is resisting.

Editorial Comment:  Developments since this blog post appeared:

1)  Captain Swenson was allowed to return to Active Duty in March, 2014, assigned to I-Corps in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

2) The Army Criminal Investigation Command [CID] launched an investigation on Swenson in 2011 because he was referenced in a comment posted on Amazon by Army Major Mathew Glsteyn - a decorated Green Beret who had been awarded the Silver Star.
   a)  A source close to the investigation opined the investigation was harassment designed to force Swenson to stop criticizing the Army.
   b)  Rep Duncan Hunter [R - CA] wrote a letter to then SecArmy John McHugh and released a statement:
         (1) "We are particularly interest to know why special agents from the CID visited Swenson's residence..." confronting his neighbors; "...What was the connection between Major Golsteyn and [Captain] Swenson?"

         (2) "The US Army is utilizing its investigations arm as a tool to retaliate against soldiers.  I'm convinced."