Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is recommending that two service members be upgraded to the military's highest valor award amid an extensive review of medals awarded since Sept. 11, 2001, Navy officials confirmed.
In an interview with Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today, who first reported the news Monday, Mabus said the two troops, either Marines or sailors, have been awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest medal for valor. The names of the two service members were not made public.
A spokesman for Mabus, Navy Capt. Patrick McNally, confirmed to Military.com that Mabus had recommended that two Navy Cross recipients be considered for the Medal of Honor.
While the original report indicated both Navy Cross recipients were sailors, McNally said that is not the case.
Mabus, who is preparing to leave his post after a near-record seven-and-a-half years in office, makes the reported recommendations as the Defense Department completes a review of all service crosses and Silver Stars -- the second- and third-highest valor medals -- awarded to troops during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to determine if any of the awards are eligible for upgrade. Some 1,100 combat awards meet those criteria.
According to Pentagon guidelines, the service secretaries have until Sept. 30, 2017, to make upgrade recommendations on any awards.
The Pentagon's official military awards database shows that eight sailors have earned the Navy Cross while serving in Afghanistan, and one received the award for service in Iraq. In all, 19 Marines have received the Navy Cross for actions in Afghanistan, and 19 for heroism in Iraq. USA Today notes that two more Navy Crosses were awarded in secret, citing records obtained by the paper.
For the Marine Corps, the list includes Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who posthumously received the Navy Cross in 2008 for throwing himself on a grenade in Fallujah to save the lives of fellow Marines during a 2004 battle. Peralta was considered for the Medal of Honor by defense secretaries Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel, but each time they concluded the evidence of his actions was not strong enough to meet the stringent Medal of Honor criteria.
Other Marines whose names have entertained Medal of Honor speculation include Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, who sacrificed their lives to keep a truck loaded with explosives from entering the base they were guarding in Ramadi, Iraq in 2008; and Lance Cpl. Brady Gustafson, who courageously engaged enemy fighters as a turret gunner in Afghanistan in 2008 despite sustaining grievous wounds to his leg.
All three Marines received the Navy Cross.
Most recently, Defense Department officials confirmed that Chief Petty Officer Nicolas Checque, a member of Naval Special Warfare Development Group, sometimes known as SEAL Team Six, had been awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for bravery during a December 2012 raid in Afghanistan to rescue an American doctor, Dilip Joseph, who had been captured by the Taliban.
The news of Checque's award was made public as Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward Byers Jr., another member of the team, received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in subduing the Taliban captors and rescuing Joseph.
According to Checque's medal citation, obtained exclusively by Military.com, he had charged an armed guard who had been alerted to the SEALs' presence, sacrificing his life to give his teammates an opportunity to accomplish their mission.
“His bravery and unhesitant commitment in pursuit of the target was pivotal in saving the American hostage and the ultimate success of the overall mission," the citation reads. "By his undaunted courage, bold initiative, and complete dedication to duty, [Checque] reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."