Recognition for each — the nation’s highest for battlefield valor — could happen as soon as Dec. 16, four current and former U.S. officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of an expected White House announcement.
Spokespeople for the White House and the Pentagon declined to comment.
The awards come as the administration pivots away from 20 years of counterinsurgency wars, and four months after a chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan in which some Americans and Afghan partners were left behind. Advocates have long pressed for awards for Cashe and Plumlee after earlier nominations were denied, while Celiz’s case surfaced more recently.
Each case entails extraordinary circumstances.
Cashe, 35, was a platoon sergeant on Oct. 17, 2005, when his hulking Bradley Fighting Vehicle rolled over a bomb near Samarra, Iraq. The blast ruptured a fuel tank inside the vehicle, setting the vehicle and soldiers inside on fire. Cashe, despite suffering initial injuries in the explosion, stepped into the fiery vehicle’s back door numerous times to pull soldiers to safety. He died about three weeks later.
Cashe, of Oviedo, Fla., was quickly nominated for the Silver Star, the U.S. military’s third-highest award for valor in combat. But as the details of his actions became clear, his case entered a bureaucratic purgatory in which his commanding officers nominated him for the Medal of Honor, and the Army declined to approve it.
Cashe will become the first Black U.S. service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Cashe’s sister, Kasinal Cashe White, said in a phone interview on Wednesday that she could not be any happier.
“After 16 years of just emotional torture for us, he’ll get what he deserves,” she said, her voice catching. “It means that all this time, I’ve been right: My baby brother will go down in history. It means a poor boy from Oviedo did it right.”
White said she was waiting to hear more details from U.S. officials so that she can book plane tickets for the White House ceremony.
“If they would make the official announcement so that the family can make plans, that would be great,” she said.
Plumlee was a staff sergeant with 1st Special Forces Group on Aug. 28, 2013, when Taliban fighters detonated a 400-pound truck bomb, breaching the outside wall of his base in Ghazni, Afghanistan. He found himself in a firefight in which suicide bombers blew themselves up no more than a few feet away from him, and he engaged them at point-blank range.
Plumlee, in a 2016 interview with The Washington Post, recalled taking fire from numerous directions, with some rounds missing his head by mere inches. At one point, he shot an insurgent, and the man’s suicide vest detonated in a ball of fire.
“I thought a tank had hit him with its main gun, or something,” Plumlee recalled. “I actually looked around to see if the Polish tanks had showed up.”
Plumlee was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commanding officers, and received backing from several top generals, including Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who went on to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But the Army decided in 2015 to award Plumlee the Silver Star instead, prompting then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter to request an inspector general investigation of the case. Army officials involved in the process gave investigators varying reasons why they did not support the case, triggering outcry from combat veterans who have long thought the Medal of Honor review process is too arbitrary.
Plumlee, who previously served as a Marine, said he did not “lie awake every night burning up with anger” about how his award had been downgraded. But he did have friends who were angry about it, he said.
“I kind of have mixed emotions about it,” Plumlee said in 2016. “I kind of have a lot of trust in the system, but if somebody says it’s broken, maybe it is.”
Celiz, 32, was a combat engineer with the elite 75th Ranger Regiment on July 12, 2018, when he stepped out from behind cover and put himself between a U.S. helicopter carrying out a medical evacuation and enemy fighters who peppered the aircraft with gunfire, according to an Army account of the battle.
A pilot in the helicopter, Capt. Ben Krzeczowski, credited Celiz, of Summerville, S.C., with protecting them.
“My aircraft would have been critically damaged if it weren’t for Chris, and we owed him our lives,” said Krzeczowski, who received a Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the same battle.
Celiz was on his fifth deployment with his Ranger battalion, and had previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan before joining the elite unit.
Other cases are still under review, U.S. officials said.
By law, Medals of Honor must be awarded within five years of the combat action recognized, but in legislation passed early this year, Congress cleared a path for additional consideration for Cashe, Plumlee and two other soldiers. One of them, retired Col. Ralph Puckett, 95, received the Medal of Honor in May for valor in the Korean War in 1950. No resolution has emerged in the case of the other veteran, Dwight Birdwell, who received two Silver Stars for valor in Vietnam in 1968.