According to a draft Army narrative obtained by McClatchy, Swenson, an adviser to the Afghan Border Police, was cited for helping to extricate the force, which was denied air and artillery cover despite the demands for support. He then repeatedly drove back to the ambush site under heavy fire to recover Afghan and U.S. casualties. He was joined by Meyer, two other Marines and an Afghan translator in a final foray to retrieve the bodies of three Marines and a Navy corpsman.
Swenson was first nominated on Dec. 18, 2009. However, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, had to resubmit Swensons papers in July 2011 after they were "lost" in what the Army later claimed was in a bureaucratic foul-up due partly to high staff turnover at U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), the American contingent in NATOs International Security and Assistance Force.
But a McClatchy investigation published Aug. 6, 2012, found that an internal U.S. military probe indicated that as Meyers nomination sailed through the approval process, there may have been an effort to kill Swensons nomination.
The military investigation uncovered U.S. Army PowerPoint briefing slides showing that Swensons nomination was improperly downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross after his papers arrived at USFOR-A headquarters in Kabul on May 19, 2010. The lesser award nomination then was sent for approval to U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Fla., according to the slides.
Moreover, military investigators failed to find any trace of Swensons Medal of Honor packet typically comprising a draft citation, a draft narrative and dozens of digitized documents supporting the nomination or any other award for Swenson on any computers except for a tiny excerpt on a classified computer network.
The period in which the slides showed the downgrade taking place corresponded with the second month of now-retired Army Gen. David Petraeus stint as the commander of ISAF and USFOR-A. Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director on Nov. 9, told McClatchy in August that he had no recollection of seeing this packet.
Regulations prohibit U.S. commanders from downgrading Medal of Honor nominations. They only may recommend approval, disapproval or disapproval with a downgrade to a lesser award. They then must forward the packet up the command chain until it reaches the president, who has the sole authority to approve it or downgrade it.
Every level of the command chain is thought to have recommended approval of Swensons resubmitted nomination.
Asked how long hell wait for the Army and the Pentagon to explain the holdup with Swensons award before seeking an inspector general investigation, Hunter replied, Until it becomes apparent that they are just stonewalling. I think pretty soon.
This shouldnt be super secret. It shouldnt be as hard and as bureaucratic as the Department of Defense is making it even though this award nomination has been there for years, he said.
An investigation by a McClatchy correspondent who survived the ambush found that the Marine Corps and the White House had inflated their accounts of Meyers deeds, attributing acts to him that were embellished, unsubstantiated or couldnt have happened.
Some parts of the Meyer accounts conflict with the Armys draft account of Swensons actions. Untangling the differences may explain the delay in Swensons award, although the Marines and the White House said their accounts of Meyers deeds were accurate.
An ambush in Gangal, Afghanistan, 2009
McClatchy's Jonathan S. Landay talks about the ambush of U.S. and Afghan troops he was embedded with on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009. For reporter, no doubt: 'I'd use the rifle if I had to'