COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — For the second time this year, a soldier with strong connections to Fort Benning will receive the nation’s highest military honor.
The White House announced this afternoon that Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, Sgt 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz, and Master Sergeant Earl D. Plumlee will be awarded the medals Dec. 16.
Columbus resident retired Col. Ralph Puckett was awarded the Medal of Honor in May by President Biden. The 95-year-old Puckett was honored for his actions in Korea in 1950.
Cashe was assigned to a Fort Benning Unit in October 2005 when he was mortally wounded while in Iraq. He becomes the first Black service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Cashe was assigned to Fort Benning’s 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3d Brigade, 3d Infantry Division deployed to Iraq.
Here is what the Army says happened, leading Cashe’s Silver Star to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor:
“While on a night-time mounted patrol near an enemy laden village, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle which Cashe was commanding, was attacked by enemy small-arms fire and an improvised explosive device which disabled the vehicle and caused it to become engulfed in flames.
“After extracting himself he set about extracting the driver who was trapped in the vehicle. After opening the driver’s hatch, Sergeant First Class Cashe and a fellow Soldier extracted the driver, extinguished the flames on him, and moved him to a position of relative safety.
“During the course of extinguishing the flames on the driver and extracting him from the vehicle, Sergeant First Class Cashe’s fuel soaked uniform ignited causing severe burns to his body. He then moved to the rear of the vehicle to continue in aiding his peers who were trapped in the troop compartment. At this time, the enemy noted his movements and began to direct their fire on his position.
“When another element of the company engaged the enemy, Sergeant First Class Cashe seized the opportunity and moved into the open troop door and aided four of his peers in escaping the burning vehicle.
“Having extracted the four Soldiers, he noticed two other Soldiers had not been accounted for and he again entered the burning vehicle to retrieve them. Despite the severe second- and third-degree burns covering the majority of his body, Sergeant First Class Cashe persevered through the pain to encourage his fellow Soldiers and ensure they received needed medical care.
“When medical evacuation helicopters began to arrive, he selflessly refused evacuation until all of the other wounded Soldiers were first evacuated. Sergeant First Class Cashe’s heroic actions, at the cost of his life, saved the lives of his teammates.
Cashe died stateside three weeks later.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger was assigned to Iraq at the time Cashe was wounded, though he was not in Cashe’s unit.
“I am glad to see Sgt. Cashe’s award because it’s a long time coming,” Mellinger said. “He saved a lot of lives. And he clearly risked his life each and every time he went back into that vehicle to bring one more of his soldiers out. Not a doubt.”
Former Fort Benning Commanding General Gary Brito was the battalion commander when Cashe was wounded. Col. Jimmy Hathaway, recently assigned to Fort Benning, was the company commander.
Celiz was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and was killed July 12, 2018 in Afghanistan.
Here is why Celiz is receiving the Medal of Honor:
“While deployed to Afghanistan, Sergeant First Class Celiz led an operation to clear an area of enemy forces and thereby disrupt future attacks against Afghan and allied forces. When a large enemy force attacked, Sergeant First Class Celiz voluntarily exposed himself to intense enemy machine gun and small arms fire to retrieve and employ a heavy weapon system, thereby allowing U.S. and partnered forces to regain the initiative, maneuver to a secure location and begin treatment of a critically wounded partnered force member.
“As the medical evacuation helicopter arrived, it was immediately engaged by accurate and sustained enemy fire. Knowing how critical it was to quickly load the casualty, Sergeant First Class Celiz willingly exposed himself to heavy and effective enemy fire to direct and lead the evacuation. Sergeant First Class Celiz made a conscious effort to ensure his body acted as a physical shield to his team carrying the casualty and the crew of the aircraft.
“As the casualty was loaded and Sergeant First Class Celiz’ team returned to cover, he alone remained at the aircraft, returning a high volume of fire and constantly repositioning himself to act as a physical shield to the aircraft and its crew. Sergeant First Class Celiz then placed himself directly between the cockpit and the enemy, ensuring the aircraft was able to depart. As the helicopter lifted off, Sergeant First Class Celiz was hit by enemy fire.
“Fully aware of his own injury, but understanding the peril to the aircraft from the intense enemy machine-gun fire, Sergeant First Class Celiz motioned to the aircraft to depart rather than remain to load him. His selfless actions saved the life of the evacuated partnered force member and almost certainly prevented further casualties among other members of his team and the aircrew. Sergeant First Class Celiz died of wounds he received in combat on July 12, 2018, in Paktia Province, Afghanistan.
Master Sergeant Earl D. Plumlee was also killed in Afghanistan on August 28, 2013.
Here were his actions that day:
“While deployed to Afghanistan, then-Staff Sergeant Plumlee instantly responded to a complex enemy attack that began with a massive explosion that tore a sixty-foot breach in the base’s perimeter wall. Ten insurgents wearing Afghan National Army uniforms and suicide vests poured through the breach. Staff Sergeant Plumlee and five Special Operations members, intent upon defending the base, mounted two vehicles and raced toward the site of the detonation.
“The vehicles, now no longer undercover, came under effective enemy fire from the front and right. Using his body to shield the driver from enemy fire, he instinctively reacted, exiting the vehicle while simultaneously drawing his pistol and engaging an insurgent to the vehicle’s right.
“Without cover and with complete disregard for his own safety, he advanced on the superior enemy force engaging multiple insurgents with only his pistol. Upon reaching cover, he killed two insurgents, one with a well-placed grenade and the other by detonating the insurgent’s suicide vest using precision sniper fire.
“Again disregarding his own safety, he left cover and advanced alone against the superior enemy force engaging several combatants at close range, including an insurgent whose suicide vest exploded a mere seven meters from his position. Undeterred and resolute, he joined a small group of American and Polish Soldiers, who moved from cover to counter-attack the infiltrators.
“As the force advanced, he engaged an insurgent to his front left. The wounded insurgent threw a grenade before detonating his suicide vest. Staff Sergeant Plumlee then swung around and engaged another insurgent who charged the group from the rear. The insurgent detonated his suicide vest, mortally wounding a U.S. Soldier. Staff Sergeant Plumlee, with complete disregard for his own safety, ran to the wounded Soldier, carried him to safety, and rendered first aid. He then organized three Polish Soldiers for defense, methodically cleared the area, remained in a security posture, and continued to scan for any remaining threats.”