The Army and the Defense Department pledged corrective action in the course of issuing an apology Wednesday to former Capt. William D. Swenson for the bureaucratic bungling that led to the long delay in the award of his Medal of Honor.
"We're sorry that you and your family had to endure through this," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said to Swenson at the Pentagon ceremony adding Swenson's name to the "Hall of Heroes" list of recipients of the nation's highest award for valor.
"Mistakes were made in this case" that resulted in the loss for 19 months in the chain-of-command of the MoH recommendation based on Swenson's actions in the Sept. 8, 2009 battle in Afghanistan's Kunar province, Hagel said.
Army Secretary John McHugh, who also spoke at the ceremony in the Pentagon's auditorium, said the Army was taking steps "to make sure that no future awards packet is lost along the way."
In the future, all MoH nominations will immediately be sent to the Army's Human Resources Command to make sure that a record exists as the awards packet makes its way through the chain, McHugh said.The Human Resources Command has also been ordered to check every 30 days on the progress of any MoH recommendation, McHugh said.
Then-Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer received the MoH for his actions at Ganjgal in Sept. 2011, but Swenson had to wait more than two years longer for his White House award ceremony.
Several survivors of the Ganjgal battle attended the Pentagon ceremony. Meyer was not among them, and he also was not present at the White House ceremony for Swenson.
Swenson's heated criticism of higher ups in the chain of command for failing to provide air and artillery support during the battle was singled out for praise by Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of Staff.
"Will was not afraid to point out deficiencies in operations," said Odierno, who hailed Swenson as "symbolizing what's best about our soldiers and our Army. In the face of imminent danger, he never quit. He never accepted defeat."
Hagel also praised Swenson for speaking out.
"He dared to question the institution he was faithful and loyal to -- that's courage, that's integrity, that's character," Hagel said.
In his own brief remarks, Swenson paid tribute to the three Marines, one Navy corpsman and Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westcott, who lost their lives at Ganjgal, and he singled out members of their families who were present at the ceremony.
"I see true strength in the families," said Swenson, who is considering a return to active duty. "I find strength in their strength."
At Ganjgal, about 11 U.S. trainers and 80 Afghan troops were ambushed by Taliban fighters hidden on the higher terrain that ringed the valley on three sides. Five Americans, 10 Afghan troops and an Afghan interpreter were killed.
Swenson was credited with returning again and again into the "kill zone" to rescue the fallen and beat back enemy attempts at encirclement.
|Richard Sisk Medal of Honor Army|