Pentagon Reviewing Service Medal Awards For Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

Senior service officials in the Pentagon have been reviewing numerous files for months to ensure veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are recognized and awarded the Medal of Honor or service cross medals.

The review was instituted by former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel two years ago, following many years of criticism among armed forces members that acts of courage following the attacks of September 11, 2001, weren’t receiving proper attention.

Historian and Vietnam War veteran Doug Sterner who appeared before Congress on valor award matters, said the review is without precedent in the military history of the U.S.

He’s hopeful some positive news will come from the Army, and it appears a couple might come from the Air Force, although he’s not as optimistic about the Marine Corps and Navy since they are diligent in tracking and awarding. Those services are the latest newcomers to review bravery medals after starting an 11-member board at Quantico, Va. on October 12. The board, led by a Marine general and three colonels, also includes two enlisted service members from each service and three senior Navy officers, reported the Washington Post.

It’s anticipated the board will reconsider numerous cases in which the Silver Star and the Navy Cross for combat valor were presented for possible promotion.

Similar efforts have been started by the other services; the Army as the largest service has a three-stage process in which examples of heroism that could lead to higher awards are transferred to boards with increasingly higher-ranking soldiers who survey the cases, explained Army spokesman, Wayne Hall.

The air force in May reviewed all its cases.

The files of a number of service members who were refused the Medal of Honor have proven contestable. Army Sgt. 1st Class Always Cashe was awarded a Silver Star for rescuing fellow soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Iraq. He suffered serious burns and died a few weeks afterward. His battalion commander, now Brig.Gen. Gary Brito said he did not appreciate the hazardous situation Cashe had been in when he recommended him for a Silver Star. He has been petitioning to have the award improved.

In another situation Marine Lance Cpl. Brady Gustafson, was awarded the Navy Cross after taking control of the gun turret of a Humvee after it was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. He continued to fire upon the enemy even as medics inside the vehicle applied a tourniquet to his seriously injured right leg, The Washington Post reported.

His battalion commander, now Marine Col Richard Hall, later said he erred in not recommending Gustafson for the Medal of Honor.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE