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Alwyn Cashe to finally receive posthumous Medal of Honor for Iraq War heroism

About time.
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Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe
Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe is expected to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor next week, according to two Army sources familiar with the planning. 

Cashe, who died in 2005 after sustaining significant injuries from pulling his soldiers out of a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Iraq, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor with two other soldiers: Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee, a Green Beret who received the Silver Star in 2015; and Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger who was killed by small arms fire in Afghanistan in 2018.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Washington Post first reported the news.

Cashe was approved to receive the Medal of Honor by the Department of Defense and White House in December 2020, but officials said in January that the ceremony would be delayed until after the presidential inauguration. Since then, Cashe’s family and his supporters have been stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for the White House to notify them that it was being made official. 

“I’ve waited 15 years … I’ve got a little while longer to hold on,” Cashe’s sister, Kasinal Cashe White, told Task & Purpose in January. 

Celiz was born in South Carolina in 1986 and enlisted in the Army in September 2007. He was selected to serve with the 75th Ranger Regiment in 2013, and in July 2018 was wounded in Paktia province, Afghanistan, by small arms fire. He was evacuated to the nearest medical treatment facility where he died, according to the Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund. He was on his fifth deployment with the 75th Ranger Regiment when he was killed.

“Chris was a national treasure who led his Rangers with passion, competence, and an infectiously positive attitude no matter the situation,” Col. Brandon Tegtmeier, then the commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, said in an Army release. “He will be greatly missed.”

Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions during an enemy ambush in Afghanistan in 2013 according to the Washington Post, but he instead received the Silver Star. Plumlee and other soldiers with 1st Special Forces Group were caught in a brutal fire fight with enemy insurgents who used a car bomb to blow a hole in the perimeter of Forward Operating Base Ghazni and get inside.

The fight became deadlier as the soldiers were taking more small arms fire, and then discovered that some of the insurgents were wearing suicide vests. A special forces soldier who was there that day said in an Army press release that Plumlee and the others “moved to the breach point and they destroyed the enemy.”

“It’s not exaggeration when I say they saved FOB Ghazni,” the Special Forces soldier said. “If they would have arrived 10 seconds later than they did, the insurgents would have been in the more densely populated part of FOB Ghazni.”

The battle resulted in the death of one soldier, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, according to the Post. The actions of the soldiers that day resulted in more than 55 awards.

‘He is the closest thing to a hero that I likely will ever meet’

On Oct. 17, 2005, Cashe was on his second deployment to Iraq and conducting a route clearance operation with his platoon when they were ambushed. As Cashe’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle rolled over a pressure plate and triggered an improvised explosive device, all hell broke loose.

The explosion ignited the fuel cell, causing it to erupt. The flames quickly spread as the soldiers remained trapped inside of the vehicle. Cashe was injured in the initial explosion and drenched in fuel. Nonetheless, the 35-year-old combat veteran immediately began working to free the six soldiers trapped inside in addition to the unit’s translator, as well as the driver of the Bradley.

“Flames had engulfed the entire vehicle from the bottom and were coming out of every portal,” reads Cashe’s citation for the Silver Star, which will be upgraded to the Medal of Honor in the upcoming ceremony.

Cashe immediately began pulling soldiers from the rear of the vehicle, but as he did the fire began to spread to his fuel-soaked uniform. One by one Cashe pulled his men from the burning wreck, and each time he came back the fire spread. But he kept coming back. 

By the time the company first sergeant arrived on scene, Cashe was the most wounded soldier on the ground — suffering from second and third-degree burns over 72% of his body. Nonetheless, Cashe refused to be loaded onto the medical evacuation helicopter until the rest of his men had been safely evacuated.

“Sgt. Cashe saved my life,” Sgt. Gary Mills, one of the soldiers Cashe saved that day, told the Los Angeles Times. “With all the ammo inside that vehicle, and all those flames, we’d have all been dead in another minute or two.”

Cashe was transported to a field hospital in Iraq where military doctors worked for hours, but the damage from the burns was too severe. He was flown to Germany and later to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. 

When Cashe was finally able to speak, his sister recalled that his first concern, even then, remained the welfare of his soldiers: “How are my boys?” he asked. On Nov. 8, weeks after the ambush, Cashe succumbed to his wounds.

To Maj. Mark Rasnake, the Air Force doctor who treated Cashe, the soldier was a hero.

“I did not realize it at the time, but he is the closest thing to a hero that I likely will ever meet. This is a place where the word ‘hero’ is tossed around day in and day out, so much so that you sometimes lose sight of its true meaning,” Rasnake wrote in a letter home. “His story reminded me of it.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication with additional information about the Medal of Honor awards for Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, and Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee.

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