Thursday, October 6, 2011

SFC Alwyn Cashe: A Hero Returns To the Flames, Again And Again

Team Ruptured Duck passes along the story of the incredible actions of Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe, in Iraq in October 2005 with 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division.  SFC Cashe was a gunner in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle during a patrol near Samarra, when it was struck by an IED that punctured and ignited the vehicle’s fuel tanks, and the Bradley began to be engulfed in flames.  Cashe, who was apparently initially unhurt, was able to escape and then extract the driver from his compartment as the flames reached him.

But then, after extinguishing the driver's burning uniform, Cashe returned again to the burning vehicle and fought to open the hatch in order to retrieve the men still inside.  His uniform caught fire before he was able to get inside, yet he continued, and pulled another of his men, now dying, from the BFV to drag to the medics attending the other badly burned soldiers.

Then he returned again, to rescue another.  He tried to douse the flames on his uniform but found that it was practically useless to do so, and it would slow him in his efforts to retrieve his men.  He brought out the next soldier, but then he again returned to the burning Bradley.  The medic was still inside, so Cashe, his own fuel-soaked uniform burning, reached inside to pull him out.  He continued to take charge of the situation as best he could, until relieved by the unit First Sergeant who arrived with help.

Cashe was the last to be evacuated, and doctors said that he suffered second- and third-degree burns over 72% of his body.  Five of the wounded were evacuated to the Burn Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.  Of the seven men that he helped rescue, five eventually succumbed to their wounds.  Cashe himself, after three weeks, died on 8 November 2005.  For his ultimate sacrifice, he received the Silver Star posthumously.

The award is the third-highest for valour in the US military, yet seems inadequate to the task of commemorating SFC Cashe’s incredible actions on that day.  He had been asked before about his tendency to place himself in dangerous positions to support his men, and he would say, “I'm at peace with myself and God, and some of these other guys might not have reached that point yet.”  It is likely that Cashe would not have cared about what award he received, but others do.  There is movement to have the award up-graded to the Medal of Honor, but the initial recommendation seems to hinge on the requirement that Cashe’s sacrifice had to occur while actually engaged with the enemy.  The fact that they were being fired upon at the time apparently does not enter the picture, since Cashe was focused on his men and not the enemy.

I have seen and heard of so many examples of awards being unjustly handled, on both sides of the equation -- from troops that deserved but did not receive them, to those who received them for actions that did not rise to the appropraite level.  I rarely express an opinion anymore out of sheer ennui tinged with cynicism, but this is an example where I weigh in on the side of recommending the Medal of Honor.  My thoughts immediately go to the fact that many have received the MoH posthumously for throwing themselves on a grenade to save their comrades.  (I also once knew a Marine who received the Silver Star for jumping on a grenade that turned out to be a dud -- try to explain that.)  In this case, Cashe went through much the same process, except that his was like a grenade that exploded in slow motion.  While the sacrifice is just as great, Cashe’s excruciating agony and dedication to his men excuses the concern about the exact proximity of the enemy while engaged in deadly action in this war zone, resulting from the deliberate placing of a mine with the exact intent to attack our troops, however remotely. 

The accompanying stories provide more detail about the questions and the process involved, but at the very least, whatever the ultimate result, the story of this man needs to be told and passed to others, far and wide.
Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Update: Always a good source, Blackfive provides more detail, including the citation.

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