Yesterday the US Senate passed legislation providing a statutory exemption to the time limit for awarding the Medal of Honor. This exemption is for one very specific soldier: Sergeant 1st Class (SFC) Alwyn Cashe.
On #VeteransDay2020 I have the honor of sharing the story of Sgt. Alwyn Cashe. He may become the first Black man to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. @TODAYshow https://t.co/VnjbQ90dFj
— Craig Melvin (@craigmelvin) November 11, 2020
From The Washington Post:
The Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that clears the way for President Trump to award the nation’s highest award for valor in combat to Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who repeatedly entered a burning vehicle in Iraq to save six fellow soldiers and an interpreter from harm and died a few weeks later.
The legislation, passed by unanimous consent, waives the legal requirement that the Medal of Honor be awarded within five years of a service member’s acts of valor. Cashe has long been considered one of the war’s great American heroes and would be the first African American to receive the award for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Former defense secretary Mark T. Esper supported the move in a letter to Congress in August after years of deliberations within the Army.
The Senate bill was introduced on a bipartisan basis following the approval of similar legislation in the House last week. In both cases, lawmakers said they wanted to move quickly.
The approval of the Cashe legislation in both chambers leaves Trump’s approval as the only hurdle to Cashe receiving the award. The president has not commented on the case, but Cashe is often cited within conservative circles as worthy of the award. A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the open case, said before the legislation’s passage in the Senate that Trump would be supportive.
Cashe, 35, of Oviedo, Fla., was deployed to Samarra, Iraq, with the 3rd Infantry Division when the armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was in rolled over an improvised explosive device on Oct. 17, 2005. He was slightly injured by the explosion and drenched fuel, and realized the vehicle’s fuel cell had erupted and the vehicle had burst into flames.
Cashe made numerous trips into the vehicle to recover fellow soldiers, suffering burns in the process. He died about three weeks later on Nov. 5 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, which is known for its unit treating burns suffered in combat.
Cashe was initially approved for the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor in combat. His commanding officer, then-Lt. Col. Gary Brito, later said that he did not initially have a full understanding for what Cashe did and has sought an upgrade for years. Brito is now a three-star general and the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel.
“Without regard for his personal safety, Sergeant First Class Cashe rushed to the back of the vehicle, reaching into the hot flames and started pulling out his soldiers,” the Silver Star citation said. “The flames gripped his fuel soaked uniform. Flames quickly spread all over his body.”
Cashe continued to assist others, even after he was on fire, the citation said. He suffered burns over 72 percent of his body.
Cashe’s sister, Kasinal Cashe White, said in phone conference with reporters recently that she did not believe discrimination had a role in the Army’s failure to award the Medal of Honor sooner. She cited a conversation that she had with Brito, who also is Black, in 2007.
Brito, she said, told her that no one in the 3rd Infantry Division had received anything higher than the Silver Star and that he knew from the information he had at the time that Cashe merited one.
“What I feel is that the information did not get back in time,” she said.
White added that she “won’t allow anybody to make it a race thing.”
“He did what he did not because he was Black, but because he was a soldier and because he loved his men,” she said. “And I believe they loved him in return.”
I expect that if the President, in a fit of pique over how the election went, refuses to sign it, it’ll be quickly resubmitted in the next Congress and President-elect Biden will sign it and then make the award.
I did not know SFC Cashe as I didn’t go to work for the Army until 2007. However, I do have a connection to him and know of his heroism. When I deployed to Iraq in 2008 with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team/1st Armored Division (2BCT/1AD), the Iron Brigade, our operating environment (OE) included one (command) forward operating base (FOB), four combat outposts (COP), and a number of patrol bases (PB). Our armor battalion, 1st Battalion/35th Armor Regiment (Task Force Iron Knights) was located just outside of Jisr Diyala on a combat outpost that was divided into a north and south base. This base’s name is COP Cashe; specifically COP Cashe North and COP Cashe South. I spent a lot of time during my deployment working with the 1/35 Armor Soldiers, as well as their Civil Affairs Team-Alpha (CAT-A), and their National Police Training Team (NPiTT) and, as a result, spent a good amount of time living and working off of COP Cashe South. There was a large portrait of SFC Cashe in the entryway to the tactical operations center (TOC) and a description of his heroism hung beside it.
This award is well deserved and too long overdue. And it is fitting that the Senate bestirred itself to actually act on this in advance of Veterans Day.
And, so that I don’t get yelled at in the comments, here’s some appropriate Veterans Day music.