President Joe Biden will soon present Medals of Honor to three soldiers for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming weeks, according to a source and a Washington Post report.
The three recipients will be:
- Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who died of burns sustained in October 2005 after rescuing, one-by-one, six soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle that struck an IED near Samarra, Iraq.
- Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee, a Green Beret who played a pivotal role in fighting off a complex suicide attack at FOB Ghazni, Afghanistan, in August 2013.
- Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger who died of wounds received in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, during a firefight with Taliban militants in July 2018.
The Washington Post first reported the pending ceremony. A friend of the Cashe family confirmed the award when reached by Army Times. White House officials declined to comment on the awards, but a formal announcement was expected as early as Wednesday evening.
All three soldiers previously received valor awards for their actions — Cashe and Plumlee were awarded the Silver Star, and Celiz received a Bronze Star with V device.
Cashe’s award is long overdue, according to many observers. He will be the first Black service member to receive the Medal of Honor for events during the Global War on Terrorism.
Cashe’s efforts to rescue his soldiers resulted in second and third degree burns over nearly 75 percent of his body, ultimately leading to his death. Witnesses said that even as the heat burned his uniform and body armor off of him, Cashe ignored the pain to continue pulling his men out of the fire.
Originally, his command rapidly moved to award him the Silver Star.
But after learning the full extent of Cashe’s actions, his battalion commander, now-Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, soon launched a campaign to upgrade the award. It took more than a decade for Cashe’s supporters to win over Army officials and lawmakers in order to clear administrative barriers for the award.
In November 2020, Congress removed the final hurdle when it passed legislation authorizing Cashe to receive the nation’s highest award for valor, but the Trump administration did not award the medal.
That hasn’t stopped the Army from recognizing Cashe in other ways. The service has named an Army Reserve facility in Florida after the fallen NCO, and the 3rd Infantry Division renamed its ceremonial gardens at Fort Stewart, Georgia, for him.
In Plumlee’s case, his initial award recommendation was downgraded.
The master sergeant almost single-handedly staved off a complex suicide attack after militants blew a hole in the base’s perimeter and poured into the breach. He used multiple weapons to kill three attackers and wound others. He also pulled a mortally wounded soldier out of the line of fire in an attempt to save him.
Plumlee’s award was the subject of controversy in 2016 when a Defense Department Inspector General investigation revealed that one member of an Army awards board had argued that the senior NCO was simply doing his job as a leader that day.
“[A]lthough the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn’t a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off the individual and the circumstance,” said the unnamed board member. “I just felt that there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make the recommendation for a Medal of Honor.”
But multiple lawmakers advocated for the Green Beret, who will soon receive the Medal of Honor.
Celiz, meanwhile, was shot while providing security for a medical evacuation flight that had landed under withering Taliban fire, according to the helicopter’s pilot.
“My aircraft would have been critically damaged if it weren’t for Chris, and we owed him our lives,” said Capt. Ben Krzeczowski in July of this year.
At the time of his death, Celiz was part of a secret program that helps the CIA hunt down militant leaders, Politico reported in 2018.
Celiz and other Army Rangers were supporting the CIA at a time when the agency was intensifying its efforts to kill or capture top militant targets in Afghanistan.
Celiz and Plumlee will be the 19th and 20th individuals awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan. Cashe will be only the seventh from the Iraq War to receive the honor.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.
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.