Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Captain Swenson Receives the Medal of Honor: Citation

Captain Will Swenson has received his Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House.  Background can be found in the series of articles I have written that detail the lurching and questionable progress this long journey has taken (see previous article for a start).

The official citation reads as follows:

"The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to

Captain William D. Swenson
United States Army

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

"Captain William D. Swenson distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as embedded advisor to the Afghan National Border Police, Task Force Phoenix, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan in support of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009. On that morning, more than 60 well-armed, well-positioned enemy fighters ambushed Captain Swenson's combat team as it moved on foot into the village of Ganjgal for a meeting with village elders. As the enemy unleashed a barrage of rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and machine gun fire, Captain Swenson immediately returned fire and coordinated and directed the response of his Afghan Border Police, while simultaneously calling in suppressive artillery fire and aviation support. After the enemy effectively flanked Coalition Forces, Captain Swenson repeatedly called for smoke to cover the withdrawal of the forward elements. Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces inflicting effective and accurate fire, Captain Swenson coordinated air assets, indirect fire support and medical evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded. Captain Swenson ignored enemy radio transmissions demanding surrender and maneuvered uncovered to render medical aid to a wounded fellow soldier. Captain Swenson stopped administering aid long enough to throw a grenade at approaching enemy forces, before assisting with moving the soldier for air evacuation. With complete disregard for his own safety, Captain Swenson unhesitatingly led a team in an unarmored vehicle into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on at least two occasions, to recover the wounded and search for four missing comrades. After using aviation support to mark locations of fallen and wounded comrades, it became clear that ground recovery of the fallen was required due to heavy enemy fire on helicopter landing zones. Captain Swenson’s team returned to the kill zone another time in a Humvee. Captain Swenson voluntarily exited the vehicle, exposing himself to enemy fire, to locate and recover three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman. His exceptional leadership and stout resistance against the enemy during six hours of continuous fighting rallied his teammates and effectively disrupted the enemy's assault. Captain William D. Swenson's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and the United States Army."

A wrong has been righted, and my sincere congratulations to Captain Swenson.

In further news, there are reports that now that he has been truly vindicated in the highest way, he has requested to return to active duty.


  1. Interesting tale. I wonder, though, if having had their feet held to the fire over him, the army would want him back.

  2. My understanding is that he is one who despises the political aspects of the military, and that is part and parcel of why the higher-ups had some difficulty dealing with him.

    The Army needs someone like that, someone who cuts through the red tape to see the situation on the ground as it really is.

    There is a history of some who have difficulty "fitting in" after receiving the MoH (Audie Murphy comes to mind, for other reasons), but it will be up to the Army to determine how he can best utilize his talents. H R McMasters (author of Dereliction of Duty) similarly had to fight to survive in his career, but he has his protectors.

    Besides, who has the cojones to put his name to an explanation of why the Army wouldn't accept someone with the Medal of Honor back onto active duty?

  3. Like most large institutions, the Army likes to pretend that it relies on people "who cut through the red tape" but, in fact, they don't like it one bit. As lieutenant-aspirants in OCS in 1968, we were taught, implicitly but unequivocally, not to go over our seniors heads except at our own peril. I expect the minions still far outnumber the individualists. Interestingly, perhaps, after the MOH was authorized, very few Civil War officers got it. I suppose that's changed down the years, however.

    1. Interesting point about the MoH and the Civil War. When first created, it didn't have nearly the cachet that it has now, being the only real recognition for bravery and thus quite diluted compared to the current stratospheric level of bravery needed for consideration. The social attitude at that time took into account that officers were somewhat ennobled based on that fact alone, and thus acts of bravery (noble acts certainly, to be distinguished from those examples of the thin red line between 'stare Death in the face' audacity and foolishness) were expected by their very nature. As for the enlisted soldiers, a more immediate form of recognition was felt to be necessary.

      The previous European model was a formal proclamation in the formed ranks of the regiment and a modest monetary reward. Napoleon is credited with the creation of medals for the common soldier, along with the perhaps apocryphal comment that "it is amazing what a man will do for a scrap of ribbon."

      It is usually simply a matter of numbers when the officer/enlisted ratio of high decorations is taken into account, since there are far more enlisted at the pointy end of the spear than there are officers. (Sometimes it is skewed artificially to a far greater degree. I was a very disgruntled young Recon Platoon Commander when I discovered that my role was supposed to be to remain on ship to coordinate advance force operations that included the actions of my men ashore, and I received no end of flak when I interpreted those directions to mean that I communicated that coordination by radio while I was with my men in the field.)

      Medals have always been a controversial topic and have become even more so with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with far lower levels of the high awards than before. One excuse has been the 'new nature of warfare', but that doesn't explain discrepancies such as the question about why 1Lt Brian Chontosh didn't receive the MoH.


  4. On the other hand, thanks to Iraq and Afghan, the Army has extended the CIB in other forms to include various other branches, somewhat cheapening the original, though none of the new ones are as good looking as the CIB. At least in my opinion. ;-)

    1. There is also the Combat Medical Badge, but for the longest time, these two were the only designations of a soldier being in combat. As a boy, I had a neighbor down the way who had a Combat Artilleryman Badge from World War II (crossed cannons vice rifle, red instead of blue) but it turns out that it never became an official designation.

      It always struck me as odd that the Army would only recognize combat on the part of the infantry (and assigned medics).

      One can argue about the design of the new Combat Action Badge, but it makes sense that if the Army is to recognize combat participation, it shouldn't be so limiting.

  5. The Bronze Star Medal was/is the designation of being in combat, or at least being attached to a combat unit. Same as the ribbon the Marines have. They don't seem to mind having no badges at all.


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