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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An investigation into how an Army captain's Medal of Honor nomination was lost in Afghanistan has been completed, said a congressman who has been pressing for answers on why the case is stalled.
The investigation was launched after Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, took a personal interest in the case in 2011, nearly two years after Capt. Will Swenson braved enemy fire repeatedly in a six-hour fight with insurgents in eastern Afghanistan. Military officials acknowledged at that time that Swenson had been nominated for the Medal of Honor in December 2009, but the paperwork was lost somewhere in the chain of command in Afghanistan — a highly unusual and embarrassing situation.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., said in a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh on Thursday that he is aware the Army's so-called "15-6" investigation is completed, and asked for a copy. The congressman "remains concerned by the mishandling of the nomination and other possible factors," he said in the letter.
"The 15-6 investigation, I believe, could provide valuable insight into the matter and possibly address several questions that have gone unanswered," Hunter said.
Swenson, who left active duty in February 2011, is credited with facing a hail of enemy fire in a U-shaped ambush, leading survivors to safety and coordinating air support that eventually helped calm the battlefield, according to military documents outlining the battle. During portions of the battle, he worked alongside then-Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, who received the nation's top valor award in September 2011 for his actions that day.
Hunter said on Monday that several "high-level sources" had told him that Swenson's Medal of Honor nomination has been at the White House since at least July awaiting President Obama's approval. No explanation has been given for the delay, which has frustrated rank-and-file troops watching the situation unfold.
The delays are 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 Army officers at nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce.
They are Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, 31; Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 30; 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25; and Navy Hospital 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.
Perhaps no one was angrier about the denied fire support than Swenson. 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.
Interviewed during an investigation afterward, Swenson unloaded on the rules of engagement in Afghanistan, the poor leadership of officers in the tactical operations center nearby and the second-guessing he experienced while requesting fire support, according to a copy of his witness statement.
"When I'm being second-guessed by higher or somebody that's sitting in an air-conditioned TOC, why [the] hell am I even out here 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."
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, the 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.