By Debbie Gregory.
The Medal of Honor is the highest military honor that a member of the US military can receive. The medal is usually awarded by the President, in the name of Congress. The recipient is a person who, while a member of the US military, distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty. With three separate designs (one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force, (Coast Guard and Marines receive the Navy medal), the Medal of Honor can be easily recognized by its sky blue ribbon with white stars.
Since its creation, there have been 3,468 Medals of Honor awarded. The most recent medal was awarded on October 15, 2013 to former US Army Captain William D. Swenson of Seattle, Washington, for his actions on September 8, 2009.
It was zero-dark-thirty in the Ganjgal Valley in Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. Captain Swenson was a trainer and adviser embedded with the Afghan Border Police Mentor Team. They were headed into the village to open negotiations as to how the village could begin to recognize the fledgling Afghani government. The team was ambushed by small arms fire, that gradually grew into larger weapons firing on them during the 90 minutes that the team was without air support. Sixteen team members were killed in the ambush: five Americans, ten Afghan army soldiers, and one interpreter.
During the battle, Captain Swenson was repeatedly exposed to enemy fire. Swenson initially put himself in harm’s way laying down a marker for the helicopter to land, 90 minutes into the fight. After making contact with the pilot and relaying all pertinent logistics, Swenson began trekking to and from the battle, assisting American and Afghani team members to safety. After all survivors were safe, Swenson went back into the danger zone to help collect the dead. At the ceremony, President Obama called Swenson, “the soldier who went back in.”
Swenson is the second Medal of Honor recipient from that particular battle. In 2011, Obama clasped the medal around the neck of Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer of Columbia, Kentucky.
“This award was earned with a team; a team of our finest from Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy and our Afghan partners standing side by side,” Swenson said to the press. He continued by saying, “And now that team includes Gold Star Families, who lost their fathers, sons and husbands that day. This medal represents them, it represents us.”
Each Medal of Honor recipient may have his name entered on the Medal of Honor Roll, which entitles the recipient to a monthly pension beyond any other Veteran benefits that they are entitled to, a 10% increase in their retirement pay, special air travel privileges, a Medal of Honor flag, open invitations to all future presidential inaugurations and inaugural balls, and in most states, a specialized license plate. There is also an unofficial military tradition that calls for any member of the US military to render honors to the award and its recipient by saluting them. The Medal of Honor also carries with it the gratitude of a nation who, in times of war and hardship, clings to heroes like Captain Swenson and Cpl. Meyer.