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MOH verdict stalled at White House: congressman

Jan. 14, 2013 - 05:04PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 14, 2013 - 05:04PM  |  
Former Army Capt. Will Swenson, center in red tie, is shown Sept. 15 at a White House ceremony where Dakota Meyer was presented the Medal of Honor by President Obama. Swenson is now being considered for the Medal of Honor, according to an officer who was with Task Force Mountain Warrior, the brigade that oversaw Swenson's unit during the 2009 battle at Ganjgal.
Former Army Capt. Will Swenson, center in red tie, is shown Sept. 15 at a White House ceremony where Dakota Meyer was presented the Medal of Honor by President Obama. Swenson is now being considered for the Medal of Honor, according to an officer who was with Task Force Mountain Warrior, the brigade that oversaw Swenson's unit during the 2009 battle at Ganjgal. (Rob Curtis / Staff)
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The long-delayed Medal of Honor nomination for a soldier credited with saving numerous lives more than three years ago in Afghanistan has been stalled at the White House for months awaiting approval, a congressman told Military Times on Monday.

Will Swenson's nomination for the nation's highest valor award reached the White House sometime during the summer, said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif. It's unclear why the award — once lost by Swenson's Army command in Afghanistan — has not been approved.

"I confirmed in July and was told several times after, through different high-level sources, that the Swenson nomination is at the White House," Hunter said. "What's taking so long is anybody's guess, but it would seem that if the nomination was initially lost it would rank high on the priority list to set the record straight and account for the mistake."

Hunter's comments come three days after the White House announced another soldier, former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, will receive the Medal of Honor next month for his actions during an attack on his base in Afghanistan in October 2009. The congressman, a vocal critic of the military's awards process, praised Romesha's heroism but said the timing of the White House's announcement raises questions about the status of Swenson's case.

"Staff Sergeant Romesha's nomination and award are a testament to his courage and selflessness," Hunter said. "He will join a proud group of distinguished heroes. There are surely others too, whose actions are in the same spirit and tradition, and I hope the Army will take this time to push for a decision in the case of Will Swenson, in particular."

Swenson, who left active duty in February 2011, is credited with braving enemy fire repeatedly during the Sept. 8, 2009, ambush on U.S. and Afghan forces in Ganjgal, an insurgent-held village in Kunar province's Sarkani district. Facing a hail of enemy fire in a U-shaped ambush, he led survivors to safety and coordinated air support that eventually helped calm the battlefield, according to military documents outlining the battle.

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For portions of the fight, Swenson worked alongside then-Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day in September 2011. Meyer has insisted Swenson also deserves the award, adding that he wouldn't have survived without Swenson's heroism.

The White House declined on Monday to comment on the status of Swenson's case.

"We have no new Medal of Honor announcements to make at this time," a White House official said.

Pentagon officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Long frustrations

Swenson's nomination being stalled at the White House is the latest in a long string of frustrations involving the Battle of Ganjgal, in which four members of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, out of Okinawa, Japan, were shot to death after being denied fire support repeatedly by U.S. Army officers at a nearby base.

They are Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, 31; Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 30; 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25, and Navy Hospitalman Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton, 22. About a dozen Afghan soldiers also were killed during the battle, and a U.S. soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, died the following month at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington from wounds sustained in the attack.

The Army announced in February 2010 that it had determined "negligent" leadership at the battalion level contributed "directly to the loss of life" on the battlefield that day. Officers involved repeatedly refused pleas for artillery support from U.S. forces on the ground and failed to notify higher commands that they had troops in trouble, an investigation found. The officers were with Task Force Chosin, an Army unit comprising soldiers from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, and 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y.

Perhaps no one was angrier about those failures than Swenson, then a member of 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan. A Ranger School graduate with previous deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, he had participated in the planning of the mission and was assured fire support would be available if needed.

Interviewed for the investigation afterward, Swenson unloaded on the rules of engagement used in Afghanistan, the leadership of officers in the tactical operations center who didn't send help and the second-guessing he experienced while requesting fire support, according to a copy of his witness statement.

"When I'm being second-guess by higher or somebody that's sitting in an air-conditioned TOC, why [the] hell am I even out there in the first place?" Swenson told investigators, according to redacted documents reviewed by Military Times. "Let's sit back and play Nintendo. I am the ground commander. I want that f---er, and I am willing to accept the consequences of that f---er."

Swenson lives in Washington state. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

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