The Defense Department on Thursday left open the possibility that Army Reserve Capt. Antonio Davon Brown, who was killed in the attack at the Orlando nightclub early Sunday, might be eligible to receive the Purple Heart.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said that the Purple Heart for Brown would be considered but the award would "depend on the definition of the event" in which his life was lost, a reference to the criteria for the Purple Heart established by Congress after the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings in 2009. Cook said the decision on the award would be up to the Army.
Brown was at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando frequented by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community when the worst mass shooting in U.S. history occurred. Police say he was among the 49 killed by 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in 911 calls.
Following lobbying by families of the victims, Congress in 2013 added to the criteria for the Purple Heart to make victims of the Fort Hood massacre eligible. At Fort Hood, Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army major and psychiatrist, fatally shot 13 people and wounded more than 30 others. Hasan was sentenced to death and is being held at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, during appeals.
Congress in 2015 amended the National Defense Authorization Act to expand eligibility for the Purple Heart to include troops killed in an attack where "the individual or entity was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack," and where "the attack was inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization."
Then-Army Secretary John McHugh later said, "The Purple Heart's strict eligibility criteria has prevented us from awarding it to victims of the horrific attack at Fort Hood. Now that Congress has changed the criteria, we believe here is sufficient reason to allow these men and women to be awarded and recognized with either the Purple Heart or, in the case of civilians, the Defense of Freedom medal."
McHugh's action also applied to an attack on a Little Rock, Arkansas, recruiting station in 2009 in which Pvt. William Long was killed and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula was wounded. The shooter, Abdulhakim Muhammad, was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Brown, who joined the Army three years before the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy against openly gay service was scrapped, was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 383rd Regiment, 4th Cavalry Brigade, 85th Support Command based in St. Louis, Missouri.
Brown, whose home of record was listed as Orlando, graduated from Florida (A&M) Agricultural and Mechanical University with his undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant on August 8, 2008. In 2010, he received his Master's degree in Business Administration from University of Mary, North Dakota.
In May 2009, he served on active duty with the 1st Special Troop Battalion, Fort Riley, Kansas. It was during that assignment with the battalion that Brown served an 11-month overseas deployment to Kuwait, the Army Reserves said.
In a statement Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that Brown "served his country for nearly a decade, stepping forward to do the noblest thing a young person can do, which is to protect others.
"His service both at home and overseas gave his fellow Americans the security to dream their dreams, and live full lives," Carter said. "The attack in Orlando was a cowardly assault on those freedoms, and a reminder of the importance of the mission to which Capt. Brown devoted his life."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.