Obama to award ‘lost’ Medal of Honor to former Army captain

 
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Army Capt. William Swenson, of Seattle, Washington,  calls for air support on his radio as his force was ambushed in the village of Ganjgal in Afghanistan.
Army Capt. William Swenson, of Seattle, Washington, calls for air support on his radio as his force was ambushed in the village of Ganjgal in Afghanistan.
Jonathan S. Landay / MCT

McClatchy Washington Bureau

President Barack Obama next month will bestow the nation’s highest military award for gallantry to former Army Capt. William Swenson for valor he displayed during a six-hour battle in eastern Afghanistan in 2009.

Swenson will become the sixth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The White House said Monday that Swenson and his family will join Obama at the White House on Oct. 15 “to commemorate his example of selfless service.”

Swenson’s nomination had been stalled since at least last summer, prompting a California congressman in January to ask the Army and the Defense Department to explain the delay. Obama awarded then-Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor in September 2011 for heroism in the same battle for which Swenson was nominated.

Swenson, of Seattle, is the first living Army officer nominated for the Medal of Honor in four decades. He resigned from the service in February 2011.

He was nominated for gallantry in the Sept. 8, 2009, battle of the Ganjgal Valley, one of the most extraordinary military confrontations of the post-9/11 wars, a six-hour clash that erupted when some 50 to 60 Taliban-led insurgents ambushed a contingent of Afghan troops, border police and U.S. trainers.

Five American and nine Afghan service personnel and an Afghan translator died; 24 Afghans and four Americans, including Swenson and Meyer, were wounded. In addition to the two Medal of Honor nominations, participants received a slew of other commendations. Moreover, two Army officers received reprimands for dereliction of duty for spurning calls by Swenson and others for artillery and air support.

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 despite the lack of air or artillery 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 Swenson’s papers in July 2011 after they were “lost” in what the Army later claimed was a bureaucratic foul-up due partly to high staff turnover at U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), the American contingent in NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force.

A McClatchy investigation published Aug. 6, 2012, found that an internal U.S. military probe indicated that as Meyer’s nomination sailed through the approval process, there may have been an effort to kill Swenson’s nomination.

The military investigation uncovered U.S. Army PowerPoint briefing slides showing that Swenson’s 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 Swenson’s 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.”

The White House noted Swenson’s military decorations include: Bronze Star Medal with Two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with One Campaign Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab and Parachutist Badge.

The Ambush at Ganjgal, Afghanistan

Email:Lclark@mcclatchydc.com; twitter@lesleyclark

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