WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday awarded the Medal of Honor to three U.S. soldiers who fought in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The soldiers are Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger who died after stepping between Taliban fighters and a U.S. helicopter evacuating wounded in 2018; Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee, a Special Forces soldier who fought off insurgents in Afghanistan in 2013; and Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, 35, who suffered fatal injuries in Iraq while rescuing fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in 2005.
Cashe became the first Black U.S. service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions since Vietnam, according to the White House.
He was on patrol near Samarra, Iraq in October 2005 when the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was commanding was attacked with small arms fire and a roadside bomb that set it flame. Cashe pulled six fellow soldiers from the burning wreckage and suffered devastating burns himself.
Cashe, who grew up in Oviedo, Florida, died from his burns at a Texas hospital the following month. Three of the soldiers he pulled from the flaming vehicle also perished.
Celiz, 32, was leading an operation to clear an area of enemy forces in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, when his team came under attack.
As a medical evacuation helicopter arrived to recover a casualty, it came under sustained sustained enemy fire.
Celiz exposed himself to heavy fire as he led the evacuation. As the casualty was loaded into the helicopter and his team returned to cover, Celiz remained at the chopper, returning fire and constantly repositioning himself to shield to the aircraft and its crew.
As the helicopter lifted off, Celiz was hit by enemy fire. Though injured, he motioned to the aircraft to depart rather than remain to load him and risk further casualties.
Celiz was a South Carolina native and had enlisted in the Army in 2006.
Plumlee was serving at a base in Ghazni, Afghanistan, when it came under massive attack, with insurgents blowing a sixty-foot breach in the base’s perimeter wall.
Ten insurgents wearing Afghan National Army uniforms and suicide vests poured through the breach. Plumlee and five Special Operations members mounted two vehicles and raced toward the site of the detonation.
He killed two insurgents, one with a well-placed grenade and the other by using precision sniper fire to detonate the insurgent’s suicide vest. He engaged several others at close range.
At one point in the battle, an insurgent detonated his suicide vest, mortally wounding a fellow U.S. soldier.
Plumlee ran to the wounded soldier, carried him to safety and rendered first aid.
He is currently serving with the 1st Special Forces Group at Fort Lewis, Washington.