New legislation introduced in the House on Wednesday would allow Iraq War hero Alwyn Cashe to receive the Medal of Honor, a move that already has the backing of top Pentagon officials.
Cashe, an Army sergeant first class who died in November 2005 while trying to save his men from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle, was previously honored with a Silver Star for his actions. Advocates have long criticized that decision, noting paperwork mistakes and bureaucratic regulations that prevented him from receiving the highest military honor.
Last month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper completed his review of the case, telling lawmakers that he would reverse previous Pentagon recommendations and back the Medal of Honor for Cashe.
However, under current law the medal must be awarded within five years of a service members' heroism. Esper requested that Congress pass new legislation bypassing that rule and putting the issue before the president.
Wednesday’s bill is an answer to Esper’s request. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Dan Crenshaw, R-Tex., and Michael Waltz, R-Fla., had already included similar language in drafts of the annual defense authorization bill, but introduced the new measure as a stand-alone action which Congress could fast track in coming weeks.
“For well over a decade, there has been a painstaking effort by Cashe’s family, friends, and former comrades to have his Silver Star upgraded to the Medal of Honor, which is clearly justified by the facts of this case,” Murphy said in a statement. “With (this bill) today, my colleagues and I are working together to remove the one remaining technical obstacle that stands in the way of this incredible soldier receiving the recognition he earned.”
A timeline for passage of the legislation remains unclear. The defense authorization bill is not expected to be finalized before November. The House and Senate are scheduled to break for most of October in anticipation of the looming elections, and approval from both the House and Senate before then appears unlikely.
Once the legislation is finalized, the president would still need to review the Pentagon’s recommendation and decide on whether to award the honor.
If approved, Cashe’s medal would be the first awarded to an African American for actions in the most recent wars.
Over the years, military advocates have questioned whether Cashe’s race played a factor in the Pentagon’s reluctance to upgrade the honor, but also demanded broader reviews of how the Medal of Honor process is handled amid a perception that troops from the current wars face a higher level of scrutiny for their heroism than past conflicts.
Only seven of the medals have been awarded for actions in the Iraq war, all but one of them posthumous. Eighteen others have been awarded for valor in Afghanistan.
Last week, President Donald Trump awarded the medal to Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne for actions in Iraq in 2015, during fighting with Islamic State group militants.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.