In a ceremony at the White House on December 16, 2021, three Medals of Honor were awarded to soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan – two of them posthumously. President Joe Biden awarded Medals of Honor to Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee and the families of Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe and Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz.
These three new Medals of Honor recipients bring the total number of recipients to 3,511. Twenty different service members have now earned the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan and eight for actions in Iraq.
Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe
October 17, 2005 – Iraq
Alwyn Cashe was born in Sanford, Florida on July 13, 1970. He was a high-spirited child, and his sister remembered his joy, for example, when she bought him a ten-speed bike. His other interests included hunting and fishing. He was raised in Oviedo, Florida, and graduated from Oviedo High School in 1988. Following his graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served during the 1991 Gulf War and the later Iraq War. In a conversation with his family, Cashe stated his determination to never leave a man behind, saying “I’m doing the job I was trained to do. I have to take care of my boys.”
On October 17, 2005, while on his second deployment to Iraq as a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, Cashe was on a route clearance operation outside Samarra, north of Baghdad, when the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was in was damaged by an improvised explosive device that ruptured the hull and fuel cell. With flames enveloping the armored vehicle, Cashe, covered in fuel, went into the hull of the Bradley and pulled out the driver who was on fire. With other soldiers still inside the burning vehicle, and enemy small arms fire incoming from a nearby tree line, Cashe rushed back and pulled out additional soldiers and helped extinguish their flames. Even as he became engulfed in the flames and despite continued enemy gun fire, he returned to the vehicle twice and saved six of his fellow soldiers.
Despite severe second and third-degree burns covering over 70% of his body, he refused to be evacuated before his fellow soldiers. The severely wounded Cashe was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Despite attempts to stabilize his wound, he succumbed to his injuries on November 8, 2005, surrounded by his family. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star on November 11, 2005.
He is interred at Restlawn Cemetery in Sanford, Florida. A U.S. Army Reserve Center in Sanford, Florida; and an Oviedo, Florida post office are named in his honor. On May 20, 2021, the Third Infantry Division ceremonial garden at Fort Stewart, Georgia was named the Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe Garden.
Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz
July 12, 2018 – Afghanistan
Christopher A. Celiz was born in Summerville, South Carolina, on January 12, 1986, and loved riding his Harley motorcycle and playing guitar. He attended The Citadel from 2004-2006 before joining the Army in 2007. After completing combat engineer training from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Celiz showed tremendous ability in postings at Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Stewart, Georgia. He deployed to Iraq in 2008-2009 for Operation Iraqi Freedom and to Afghanistan in 2011-2012 for Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2013, Celiz earned a position as a combat engineer in the 75th Ranger Regiment, and in 2017 he became Company D’s mortar platoon sergeant with the rank of Sergeant First Class. Known for his selflessness and determination, he earned respect and affection from all of his comrades. His wife recalled: “He didn’t feel like he could do his job without his Soldiers ready and able by his side. He always pushed them and he wanted them to push him. He couldn’t be a better person if they didn’t challenge him.”
He was partway through his fifth combat deployment on July 12, 2018, when the action for which he earned the Medal of Honor took place in Paktia province, Afghanistan. During this action, Celiz was reportedly working with a counterterrorism team engaged in tracking extremist leaders, when his group came under fire from multiple directions. Selflessly exposing himself to enemy fire, Celiz retrieved a heavy weapons system and then used his body to shield an injured comrade. Despite injuries, he shielded a medical evacuation helicopter and then told the pilot to leave him behind in order to save his fellow Soldiers. A returning medical team found Celiz mortally wounded.
After his death, Celiz’s commanding officers declared, “Chris was a national treasure who led his Rangers with passion, competence, and an infectiously positive attitude no matter the situation. . . . Celiz was a great Ranger leader, and . . . he had an incredibly positive attitude that inspired Rangers throughout the formation. Sgt. 1st Class Celiz led from the front and always put himself at the decisive point on the battlefield. He was a loving husband and father.”
Before receiving the Medal of Honor, Celiz was posthumously awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and the Purple Heart.
Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee
August 28, 2013 – Afghanistan
Earl Plumlee, of Merritt, Oklahoma, was serving as a Green Beret with C Company, 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom when he entered the action on August 28, 2013, that was to earn him the Medal of Honor.
Enemy forces had detonated a large truck bomb at Forward Operating Base Ghazni, after which nine enemy fighters assaulted the base wearing Afghan National Army uniforms and explosive suicide vests. Master Sergeant Plumlee arrived on the scene with several other Green Berets just after the attack began. He debarked from a truck, maneuvered to provide cover to injured soldiers and the truck’s driver, and engaged the enemy with his pistol. He fired at one attacker, whose vest exploded, alerting the Green Berets that the enemy fighters were intent on a suicide mission.
Plumlee nevertheless continued his action while taking fire from all sides, and in intense combat, he showed remarkable courage and succeeded in helping to eliminate the enemy force, despite being injured. During the action, Plumlee also rescued and saved the life of a wounded soldier under fire, and then led a group of soldiers in securing the base. He said afterward: “The strongest emotion I had from that day was the last time we were pushing down and had really gotten organized we were moving as a really aggressive, synced up stack, moving right into the chaos. It was probably the proudest moment of my career, just to be with those guys, at that time, on that day was just awesome.”
Another Special Forces soldier said of Plumlee when he was presented with the Silver Star two years later: “It was Sergeant Plumlee that was there at that time and place, and it was he who had the opportunity to demonstrate uncommon gallantry.” Told that he had initially been recommended for the Medal of Honor but been turned down, much to the disappointment of men who served alongside him, Plumlee remarked, “I think there are plenty of Medal of Honor recipients out there whose actions surpassed mine.” But the award would come in time.