On Thursday, President Joe Biden awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration for valor in combat, to three soldiers for their actions while serving over in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Biden honored Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee, a Special Forces soldier who fought off Taliban militants in Afghanistan in 2013; Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger who was killed after positioning himself between Taliban fighters and wounded Americans in 2018; and Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, 35, who died while rescuing fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq in 2005.
Two of the medals were honored posthumously
“Our hearts are overflowing with gratitude today as we honor unparalleled courage, commitment to duty, indispensable, indisputable gallantry,” Biden said at the White House ceremony.
“It is hard to explain where the soldiers got the courage,” he added.
Biden presented medals for “conspicuous gallantry” to the families of Cashe and Celiz.
Cashe, the first black service member to receive the Medal of Honor for military actions since the Vietnam War, was commanding a Bradley Fighting Vehicle when it was hit by small arms fire and a roadside bomb in October 2005.
Cashe pulled four soldiers out of the flaming vehicle, despite suffering severe burns himself, and returned to rescue two more soldiers. He also refused to be airlifted out until other soldiers were evacuated. Cashe died a month later at a Texas hospital.
Celiz was leading an operation to clear enemy forces in Afghanistan in July 2018 when they came under attack by a large enemy force.
When a medical helicopter arrived to evacuate the wounded, it was fired upon by Taliban fighters. Celiz used his body to shield members of his unit as they were loaded on the chopper.
Celiz then positioned himself between the enemy forces and the helicopter’s cockpit to allow the aircraft to take off, signaling to the aircraft to depart rather than remain to load him at the risk of further casualties.
Plumlee was serving at a base in Afghanistan when insurgents blew a 60-foot hole in the perimeter wall. The enemy forces, wearing Afghan National Army uniforms and suicide vests, ran through the breach.
Plumlee and five other soldiers drove two vehicles to the site of the explosion.
Armed with a pistol, Plumlee confronted the insurgents, killing two of them at close range, carrying a wounded soldier to safety and applying first aid.
Despite his own injuries, Plumlee later joined American and Polish forces to counterattack the insurgents.
Plumlee is now serving with the 1st Special Forces Group at Fort Lewis, Wash.