The long delay in awarding the Medal of Honor to Army Capt. William Swenson has raised troubling questions about the integrity of the military’s process for awarding medals.
After braving intense fire to help his fallen comrades during an ambush in Afghanistan in 2009, Swenson was recommended for the nation’s highest military honor. But it would be four years before the medal was slipped around his neck this past October. A Marine caught in the firefight received the same honor two years earlier.
An Inspector General’s Office report found Swenson’s recommendation was not forwarded to Centcom at MacDill Air Force Base, contributing to the delay. If that isn’t troubling enough, the inspectors determined the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan award section, “frequently lost awards, had unreliable processes and employed inadequate tacking systems.”
Centcom commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III says that’s unacceptable. And he’s right. As the Tribune’s Howard Altman reports, Austin has ordered a review of the Afghanistan medal process. Centcom officials say it’s too soon to know how many awards may have been lost in the military’s bureaucracy.
None of this, it appears, would have come to light without the persistence of a journalist who witnessed the firefight Swenson survived, a mother from Riverview whose son died in the firefight, and U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine veteran from California.
They wouldn’t give up their fight to make certain Swenson received the medal. The fact Swenson sharply criticized other officers for a delay in sending air support during the firefight adds to the questions swirling around the delay in receiving his medal. It raised suspicions that the paperwork was set aside as payback, then resurfaced only after questions were raised publicly by the journalist and other supporters.
Whether deliberate or the result of incompetence, the delay has now triggered a wider review of the awards process that we hope will lead to a better process, and to deserving troops being honored for their bravery.
Five Americans, 10 Afghan troops and an interpreter were killed in the 2009 firefight. Swenson and others risked their lives to recover the bodies of four fallen troops.
His bravery, and that of all service members who distinguish themselves on the battlefield, deserves an awards process that is beyond reproach.