Senate lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously approved plans to award the nation’s highest military honor to Iraq War hero Alwyn Cashe. Now the decision is up to the president.
Cashe, an Army sergeant first class who died in November 2005 from injuries sustained trying to save his men from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle, was previously honored with a Silver Star for his actions.
But advocates have long criticized that decision, lamenting paperwork mistakes and bureaucratic regulations that prevented his honor from being upgraded over the last 14 years.
Cashe suffered second and third degree burns over nearly 75 percent of his body during his rescue attempt. Witnesses said that even as the heat burned his uniform and body armor off of him, the solider continued to ignore the pain to pull his men out of the fire.
At the time of the Silver Star award, Army officials said that even though the vehicle was set ablaze by a roadside bomb, Cashe’s actions did not merit the Medal of Honor because the soldiers were not in active combat.
However, follow-on investigations found the initial reports of the attack left out enemy gunfire which raked the ground around Cashe throughout his rescue attempts.
Earlier this fall, House lawmakers passed legislation waiving rules which required his award upgrade to occur within five years of his actions. The Senate move on Tuesday — delayed by more than a month because of elections — finalized that legislation. It now heads to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
Trump has not publicly commented on the case, but then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a letter to lawmakers in August said he would support the move.
“After giving the nomination careful consideration, I agree that SFC Cashe’s actions merit award of the Medal of Honor,” Esper wrote, summarizing the department’s lengthy review of the case. “If he so chooses … I will provide my endorsement [for Cashe’s medal upgrade] to the President.”
If the Medal of Honor is awarded to Cashe, he would become only the seventh individual granted the honor for actions in Iraq, and the first African-American given it for battlefield heroism since the Vietnam War.
Critics have questioned whether discrimination has played a role in military officials' handling of Cashe’s case. But in a press conference with reporters earlier this month, Cashe’s sister, Kasinal White, said she did not think his race was a factor.
“I feel the right information did not get back in time,” she said. “I think given what (Army officials) knew at the time, they did the best they could.”
In a statement, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. — one of the sponsors of the legislation — praised the Senate’s action on the measure.
“We are now very close to recognizing this unbelievably heroic soldier, who died saving his men, with our nation’s highest award for combat valor — which he earned beyond a shadow of a doubt,” she said.
White House officials have not said when a decision may be made on the Cashe case. Trump has authorized awarding of the medal nine times since took office.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.