President Joe Biden on Thursday recognized three Army soldiers who risked their lives in combat, two of whom were killed in action, by awarding them the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration.
All three were credited with putting themselves in danger as they protected others and sought to repel enemy attacks. The soldiers’ heroics stretched over several years, a reminder of how long Americans were engaged in combat operations in the Middle East.
“Today we honor three outstanding soldiers, whose actions embody the highest ideals of selfless service,” Biden said during a White House ceremony honoring the recipients. “We also remember the high price that military members and their families are willing to pay on behalf of our nation.”
The White House said that then-Staff Sgt. Earl Plumlee earned the medal through his actions in August 2013 that followed a massive explosion that tore a 60-foot hole in the wall of his base in Afghanistan. As 10 insurgents poured through the wall, Plumlee and five other special operations soldiers hopped into two vehicles and raced to stop the attackers, encountering heavy fire.
Plumlee used his body to shield the driver of his vehicle, leapt out of it, drew a pistol and started firing at the insurgents, killing two of them. In the ensuing gunfight, “with complete disregard to his own safety,” Plumlee carried a mortally wounded soldier to safety and helped organize a successful counterattack, the White House said.
Before putting the medal on Plumlee, now a master sergeant, in the East Room of the White House, Biden hailed the soldier’s bravery. “Time and again bullets flew by, sometimes only inches away. Time and again Staff Sgt. Plumlee closed with the enemy,” Biden said. “This recognition has been too long in coming, for you and your family. No one will forget how you sprang into action when the enemy attacked our base.”
Biden also presented medals to the widows of the two soldiers killed in action.
Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe rescued several soldiers in October 2005 from a Bradley fighting vehicle that burst into flames after it struck a roadside bomb in the Iraqi town of Duluiyah, the White House said. Despite suffering severe burns, he refused to be evacuated by helicopter until other soldiers were flown to safety. He died several weeks later from his wounds.
“No soldier was going to be left behind on his watch,” said Biden.
Cashe, 35, grew up in Florida and enlisted in the Army in 1989. He deployed to Iraq the same year he was killed.
The White House said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, 32, died in Afghanistan in 2018 after exposing himself to enemy fire to reach an injured soldier and carry him to safety. When a helicopter arrived to evacuate the wounded soldier, it came under withering enemy fire. To protect the team carrying the soldier and the helicopter crew, the White House said, Celiz stood between the insurgents and the chopper, acting as a human shield.
As the helicopter lifted off, Celiz was shot and badly wounded. “Fully aware of his own injury, but understanding the peril to the aircraft from the intense enemy machine gun fire, Sgt. 1st Class Celiz motioned to the aircraft to depart rather than remain to load him,” the White House said. “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 air crew.”
Celiz, who was born in South Carolina and enlisted in the Army in 2006, died later that day.
“Christopher Celiz was courage made flesh,” Biden said.
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