The Congressional Medal of Honor recognizes those military members for distinguishing themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty. Only seven living Veterans of the Afghanistan War have received the highest Military honor, which was created in 1861 for Civil War heroes. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the award, it is frequently awarded posthumously.
The surviving seven Afghanistan War Veterans to receive the Medal of Honor include:
Sgt. Kyle Jerome White
US Army, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade
“Today, we pay tribute to a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation,” President Obama said at the most recent Medal of Honor ceremony on May 13, 2014. He was describing Sergeant Kyle J. White’s outstanding service in Afghanistan during an ambush in 2007. Like any strong leader, White insisted the honor be dedicated to his colleagues and fallen comrades.
White enlisted after high school in Seattle following his father’s career as an Army Special Forces member. Just 21 months later, in November 2007, he and his team were attacked in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. He was knocked unconscious, but after coming to, he saw a teammate in trouble. White used his own body as a shield to protect his injured friend during the gunfire. He then pulled another comrade to cover.
“When you’re deployed,” White said, “those people become your family. What you really care about is: I want to get this guy to the left and to the right home.”
Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta
U.S. Army, Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503d Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade
Honored in November 2010, Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta was the first living Veteran to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. The Iowa native enlisted in the Army in 2003 and has earned the Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart, among others. He participated in two deployments, and it was during the second that he put himself in enemy’s fire to save a comrade. The attack in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan on October 25, 2007 split his squad in two. Giunta saw the enemy carrying away a fellow soldier and put his own life at risk to rescue his teammate.
During his Medal of Honor ceremony, President Obama described Giunta as “a low-key guy, a humble guy, and he doesn’t seek the limelight. And he’ll tell you that he didn’t do anything special; that he was just doing his job; that any of his brothers in the unit would do the same thing. In fact, he just lived up to what his team leader instructed him to do years before:‘You do everything you can.’” And he did.
Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry
U.S. Army, Company D, 2d Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
“It's not a normal thing to want to go out there and possibly get shot,” Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry told Men’s Journal. The New Mexico native lost his hand during a grenade fight in Paktya Province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008. That sacrifice made him the second living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Afghanistan War in July 2011.
He threw a grenade that detonated and saved his fellow Army Rangers from further harm. He placed a tourniquet on his own arm. Petry now has a prosthetic hand on which the names of 15 Rangers that died from his battalion are engraved. “I figured I had the real estate, so why not make it into a living memorial,” he explained. “Now those guys are always in my thoughts.”
Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha
U.S. Army, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division
On October 3, 2009, Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha’s team at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan was attacked by over 300 enemy fighters. His heroic actions throughout the day-long battle that ensued earned him the Medal of Honor in February 2013.President Obama noted that event has been described as one of the most intense battles in the war in Afghanistan.
Romesha, a California native, ignored the wounds he suffered that day to reach his fellow wounded Americans. He was personally responsible for killing more than 10 enemy fighters and an estimated 30 anti-Afghanistan forces with indirect fire and air support.
Specialist Ty M. Carter
U.S. Army, Battle Company, B Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment
"I would never tell any soldier or service member, 'Hey, go out and get the Medal of Honor', because of the amount of pain and loss and tears that has to be shed in order to receive it,” Specialist Ty M. Carter told NPR. He was given the honor in August 2013 for his heroic efforts in the same 2009 battle Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha was recognized for. While Romesha provided cover, Carter cared for a critically wounded soldier with first aid and brought him to medics. Carter has spoken openly about dealing with post-traumatic stress and is a model for Veterans both on and off the battlefield.
Sergeant Dakota Meyer
U.S. Marine Corps, Embedded Training Team 2-8, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines
When Sergeant Dakota Meyer received the Medal of Honor in September 2011, he was the first U.S. Marine Corps member to be given the distinction in nearly 40 years. When asked recently why he thought there were so few Post-9/11 Veterans recognized, Meyer told The Daily Beast, “There’s more access to people, and I think that everyone remembers things differently and everyone is entitled to their own opinion…Just because one person relives an account differently.” The Kentucky native enlisted in 2006 and deployed to Fallujah, Iraq before serving in Afghanistan.
Meyer's initiatives throughout a 6-hour battle in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009 earned him the highest recognition. His efforts significantly disrupted the enemy's attack and inspired the members of the combined force to fight on, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Citation. His story is recounted in his book, Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War.
Captain William D. Swenson
U.S. Army, Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3d Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division
In the same battle Sergeant Meyer displayed his gallant efforts, Captain William D. Swenson personally rescued the bodies of three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman. Braving fire and stepping out of his Humvee, Swenson made sure to return his fellow Americans who were lost in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
That act garnered the Medal of Honor in 2013. “Captain Will Swenson was a leader on that September morning,” President Obama declared during his ceremony. “But like all great leaders, he was also a servant -- to the men he commanded, to the more than a dozen Afghans and Americans whose lives he saved, to the families of those who gave their last full measure of devotion on that faraway field.”
Thank you to all the brave men and women who have selflessly sacrificed to preserve our freedoms in Afghanistan.