By Debbie Gregory.
A commander’s recommendation for a Medal of Honor to be awarded to Green Beret Staff Sgt. Earl D. Plumlee has been denied.
Instead, Plumlee has been awarded a Silver Star, an award considered two levels lower.
The award recognizes Plumlee for his role in repelling a bloody Taliban attack on August 28, 2013, on Forward Operating Base Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan. The member of 1st Special Forces Group from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington is credited with killing several attackers at point-blank range, using both small arms and hand grenades, as their suicide vests detonated.
Plumlee rushed to the site of a car bombing outside the military base as Taliban attackers reportedly tried storming in through a damaged wall. Troops, including Plumlee, returned fire and helped the wounded receive medical aid. Unfortunately, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis was killed in the attack.
Other troops received Silver Stars, including a posthumous award to Ollis.
“I think there are plenty of Medal of Honor recipients out there whose actions surpassed mine. But I think a downgrade to the Distinguished Service Cross wouldn’t have got everyone stirred up.”
The Distinguished Service Cross is one level below the Medal of Honor.
Plumlee’s recommendation was backed by senior battlefield commanders, including Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. But in May 2015, Plumlee instead received the Silver Star, prompting Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter to request an inspector general’s investigation.
One of the voting members said his decision not to recommend the Medal of Honor came down in large part to one thing: Plumlee’s rank. Because Plumlee was a staff sergeant, he was expected to be a leader once the Taliban attacked rather than “a private who would be seized by the moment and take extremely valorous and courageous action,” the board member told the inspector general, according to the report.
“One’s a leader. One’s a Soldier,” the member said, according to the report. “And so when I looked at the circumstances and, although the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn’t a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off of the individual and the circumstances and that, I just felt there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make a recommendation for a Medal of Honor.”
Army spokesperson Cynthia Smith declined to answer whether it is fair that when reviewing valor award recommendations, the service may consider similar actions by soldiers of different ranks differently.