Modern Medals of Honor and the time they take to award


Graphic by Dan Lamothe, Kevin Uhrmacher and Annie Daniel/ The Washington Post

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts will receive the Medal of Honor on Monday, becoming the 16th service member bestowed with the award for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. As my story in The Washington Post on Sunday explores, however, the length of time it takes to receive the award has increased dramatically in recent years.

President Obama, meanwhile, has awarded the medal twice as often as President George W. Bush.

Pitts’ case is a banner example of the time it takes increasing. He will receive the award in the East Room of the White House on Monday six years and eight days after heroism in the Battle of Wanat, which led to the deaths of nine U.S. troops and the wounding of 27 others. Pitts sustained a devastating leg injury early in the battle that needed a tourniquet, but he continued to hold off a fierce ambush on his platoon’s observation post.

President Obama awarded Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts with the Medal of Honor at the White House on Monday. Pitts held off an ambush on his platoon's post during one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghanistan war despite his own injuries. He is the 16th service member to receive the award for service in Iraq or Afghanistan. (Associated Press)

Before President George W. Bush left office early in 2009, he awarded five Medals of Honor for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, all posthumously. Bush was criticized in the military for not once decorating a living service member with the Medal of Honor, but the medals he did award came relatively quickly — after about two years each, or 736 days on average.

Pitts will be the 11th post-9/11 service member to receive the Medal of Honor from Obama. Nine of the awards have gone to living recipients, but those cases have taken an average of nearly four years — 1,443 days — to conclude. The president also has awarded two posthumous awards, which took about three years each.

Check out our graphic of Modern Medals of Honor here. And read Pitts’ back story here.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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