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Pentagon recommends Medal of Honor for a living soldier
Some senior Bush administration officials worried that the lack of visible heroes made it tougher to convey the importance of the Iraq and Afghan wars to the American people, Feaver said. Early efforts by the Pentagon to weave heroic narratives out of the lives of soldiers such as former NFL football player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman collapsed when early military accounts of battlefield valor proved to be untrue. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
Six posthumous Medals of Honor have been awarded for heroism in the Iraq and Afghan wars. The honorees exposed themselves to enemy fire to call for reinforcements or pull wounded colleagues to safety. Three of the six jumped on grenades, sacrificing their lives to save their fellow troops.
In response to the paucity of Medals of Honor awarded since 2001, the House Armed Services Committee directed the Defense Department to conduct a formal review of its award policy. Pentagon officials insist that the criteria for awarding the Medal of Honor hasn't changed since Vietnam.
But the nature of battle has changed, said Eileen M. Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman. Precision bombs and lethal attack helicopters typically give U.S. troops a huge firepower advantage over lightly armed insurgents on the battlefield. To compensate, fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on roadside bomb attacks and ambushes that lasted for only a few minutes. Previous Medal of Honor recipients have typically displayed extreme bravery in battles that last for hours.
There are at least three Medal of Honor nominations, including the one at the White House, working through the system. The three nominees served in sparsely populated valleys in eastern Afghanistan that U.S. troops have abandoned in recent years.
The valleys, which are within 30 miles of each other, are dominated by treacherous, mountainous terrain that frequently allowed enemy fighters to move within close range of U.S. forces before launching their attack. The remote nature of the valleys meant that troops often had to fight for an hour before attack helicopters arrived on the scene to drive back the enemy.
Senior military officials described the fighting in those valleys as some of the toughest since the Korean and Vietnam wars. "It is a very, very challenging fight," said one military official. "It is sustained lengthy ground combat."
The relatively large number of potential Medal of Honor nominations emerging from this remote area of Afghanistan also reflected a war strategy that asked U.S. commanders to do too much with too few resources, military analysts said. Frequently troops were overextended in hostile terrain.
"We should be stationing our troops in places where they won't be earning the Medal of Honor because the population and terrain favor us and we have quick access to air support," said John Nagl, one of the authors of the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine and president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense think tank.
Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.