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The Medal of Honor awarded last month to a young Marine who served in Afghanistan has renewed a campaign by combat veterans who accuse the Pentagon of being too stingy with the decoration. Only 10 service members have been honored with the highest decoration for heroism in Iraq or Afghanistan in the last decade, compared to 248 for action in the Vietnam War and 467 in World War II.
“Properly recognizing these actions through the awards process is not just important to the individuals involved, but it is also essential to upholding the tradition of the armed forces and inspiring others to step forward.”
Douglas Sterner, a Vietnam War Army veteran who tracks military honors, has also called for a comprehensive review of recipients of the Silver Star and above. Late last month he lobbied the secretary of the Army to reconsider the case of Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, a soldier posthumously awarded the Silver Star after he was fatally wounded in Iraq in 2005 pulling six comrades from a burning Humvee. “There is a systematic failure that may have resulted in heroic soldiers receiving so-called lesser awards that should have been properly recognized with the Medal of Honor,” said Sterner, now the curator of the Military Times’ Hall of Valor database, in a letter to the Army secretary.
The Medal of Honor awarded on Sept. 15 to Dakota Meyer, the first living Marine to receive the distinction since the Vietnam War, also called attention to another man in the battle whose actions in Afghanistan had gone unrecognized. Like Meyer, former Army Capt. William Swenson fought through withering enemy fire to save his American and Afghan comrades and retrieve the bodies of four missing service men during a Taliban ambush in 2009.
Offering his own explanation, Hunter said “the current award submission process for the Medal of Honor is so onerous and intimidating” that it limits the number of recommendations submitted by commanders.