In the waning days of summer 2013, Taliban insurgents launched a spectacular attack on a coalition military base in Afghanistan. A 400-pound car bomb rocked the eastern side of the installation, and about 10 enemy attackers armed with suicide vests, rifles, hand grenades and grenade launchers poured through a shattered wall.
Among those to respond was Staff Sgt. Earl D. Plumlee, a former reconnaissance Marine and Green Beret with the Army’s 1st Special Forces Group. He and some of the other troops who fought to protect Forward Operating Base Ghazni engaged in a fierce firefight with insurgents. Enemy attackers were no more than 20 feet away during portions of the Aug. 28 fight, according to military documents describing the event.
The battle yielded numerous awards for those who fought off the attack. But it is the award that was denied to Plumlee — the Medal of Honor — that has drawn attention on Capitol Hill and from the Defense Department Inspector General’s office.
The awards process has been unsatisfactory for a long time. For instance, no matter how valorous you are, if you failed a height/weight test, your records can be flagged for “no favorable personnel actions” which means you get no official recognition.
And while it is important to not lower the standards for the Medal of Honor, it’s equally important to not set a standard that simply cannot be achieved. Awards exist to be awarded. The Medal of Honor is the highest award, but it is not some talisman that mere mortals cannot touch.
McHugh has hardly inspired confidence in his leadership during his long tenure as SecArmy. And the downgrade from an enthusiastic recommendation for the Medal of Honor to the Silver Star is puzzling at best. One might reasonably question whether the Distinguished Service Cross would be the appropriate award in many cases. But when an award is so strongly endorsed throughout the chain of command and the awards process, we find it more than passing odd that it was downgraded two steps, and with little explanation.
At any event, let us celebrate the heroism and valor of SFC Plumlee, and give thanks that men such as he serve our nation.