In 2015, The Army denied the Medal of Honor (MOH) to a Green Beret combat veteran, Sgt. 1st Class Earl D. Plumlee. The recommended award was for his actions during a Taliban attack in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in the summer of 2013. However, it was downgraded to the Silver Star. This has raised a good deal of heated debate about the process the Army is currently using to award the MOH.
First things first. These are some of the details of the events surrounding Plumlee’s nomination for the MOH. They took place during an extremely intense battle in Gazni at a coalition forces base in 2013. The attack began when a car bomb exploded near one of the perimeter walls, blowing a huge hole in the wall through which ten Taliban members entered into the compound. Each of them was strapped with a suicide vest.
(Read about another soldier’s sacrifice during the same battle!)
Responding to the sound of the attack, Plumlee drove his truck up to the immediate area of the action. He was taking heavy fire as he approached. When he exited the vehicle, his 7.62 assault rifle jammed, so he drew his pistol and began firing at the enemy. He was able to kill one of the insurgents with a grenade, which also set off the man’s suicide vest.
Though Plumlee became the focus of intense enemy fire, he kept shooting his weapon effectively enough to suppress his oppenents so his fellow Americans could find cover. He reloaded his weapon and took on two more of the Taliban. One of their suicide vests exploded showering Plumlee with shrapnel. While still under fire, he was able to apply tourniquets to some of the wounded and then direct others to remove the wounded to the surgical unit on the base. When things quieted down he helped others sweep the area for other enemy combatants.
Two months after the battle, in November of 2013, Plumlee was put up for the MOH by the then head of Special Operations task forces in Afghanistan, Col. Patrick B. Roberson. The recommendation was backed by General Joseph F. Dunford, then the top man in Afghanistan, who would later become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Other high ranking officers who agreed with the MOH recommendation included Lt. General Mark A. Milley, who was recently named to become the next Army Chief of Staff, and Maj. Gen. A. Scott Miller. According to an article in the Washington Post, General Dunford described Plumlee’s actions as, “truly extraordinary.”
So why was Plumlee’s award reduced to the Silver Star, the 3rd highest award for valor in combat?
Apparently, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command investigated Plumlee for possibly trying to sell a rifle scope on the internet. Their investigation found no evidence that this was the case, but the Army still reduced the award.
There are many who are criticizing this decision. One of them is Doug Sterner who, according to the Washington Post, is a Vietnam veteran who has testified before Congress on valor issues on many occasions. His argument was:
“The award is about heroism on the battlefield, not a soldier’s lifestyle at home.”
There is no doubt that Plumlee’s actions that day were done in the highest traditions of heroism on the battlefield. The Washington Post also pointed out that many critics of the present process argue there is “too much caution in the system, and that the rules for honoring battlefield bravery should be applied uniformly.”
Plumlee’s award was reduced by the Decorations Board of the Army’s Human Resources Command, according to Army spokesperson, Cynthia Smith. It was passed by senior leadership, which agreed overwhelmingly with the reduction before it was signed off by Secretary of the Army, John McHugh.
Plumlee received the Silver Star in ceremonies at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on May 1, 2015. Both he and Gen. Dunford have chosen not to speak further about the award.
This is an incredibly complex story, full of both heroism, bureaucratic nervousness, and humility. Sgt. 1st Class Earl D. Plumlee’s actions on that occasion in 2013 in Ghazni were of the highest levels of heroism on behalf of his fellow Americans and coalition soldiers. A Silver Star is no small award for bravery. Plumlee accepted the award with grace and appreciation. Soldiers do not do what they do to win awards. They do it out of love for their fellow soldiers. Plumlee can be proud of what he did.
The Veterans Site wishes to add its praise and respect to Sgt. 1st Class Plumlee for his great valor under fire. We are thankful for your dedication to your fellow soldiers and for your service to the nation. Your actions that day humble us all.