Army Capt. William Swenson calls for air support on his radio as troops take cover while Afghan security forces and their U.S. military trainers were ambushed on Sept. 8, 2009. A Sept. 14 report by The Wall Street Journal says Swenson is being recommended for the Medal of Honor. (Jonathan S. Landay / McClatchy Tribune)
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Army Capt. Will Swenson has been recommended by the top U.S. general in Afghanistan for the Medal of Honor after widespread speculation about why his heroism had gone unrecognized, according to a published report.
Swenson braved enemy fire on Sept. 8, 2009, with Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, who will receive the nation's top valor award Thursday at the White House. Meyer, now a sergeant in the Individual Ready Reserve, told Marine Corps Times recently that it was "ridiculous" Swenson already hadn't received some form of valor award.
"I'll put it this way," the outspoken Meyer said in an interview. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be alive today."
Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, took a personal interest in the fierce firefight in Ganjgal, Afghanistan, that led to Meyer's award, according to a report published on The Wall Street Journal's website Wednesday night. The record of the battle was reopened last month, and "given the four-star general's personal interest, sworn statements attesting to Capt. Swenson's valor were quickly found."
"Gen. Allen has since forwarded a Medal of Honor recommendation, saying it was the right thing to do despite a lapse of two years," the report said.
It was not clear what caused the delay, or where the recommendation was in the approval process. Any recommendation would need to be approved by the Army, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and President Obama.
Swenson worked with Meyer under heavy enemy fire to recover the bodies and gear of four U.S. military trainers who had gone missing in the battle. Uncertain whether they were all dead, Meyer charged through enemy fire alone and on foot to find them. He found them shot to death and in a hillside trench at the outskirts of the village, in volatile Kunar province's Sarkani district. Swenson assisted him in carrying the bodies and gear back to their Humvee.
Meyer and Swenson already had braved enemy fire repeatedly in the battle while working to save other U.S. and Afghan forces, even after Army officers at a nearby tactical operations center repeatedly denied fire support they requested. On the last trip into the village to get the bodies, they rode a Humvee under fire with Marine 1st Lt. Ademola Fabayo and Marine Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, both of whom received the Navy Cross in June for their actions that day.
Swenson, who left the Army in February, could not be reached for comment.
He was then a member of 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan., and deployed to oversee the training of Afghan border police in Sarkani. A Ranger School graduate with previous deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, he had participated in the planning of the mission, and was assured fire support would be available if things turned ugly.
Interviewed for the subsequent investigation, he unloaded on the rules of engagement used in Afghanistan, the leadership of officers who didn't send help and the second-guessing he experienced requesting fire support, according to military documents. His name is redacted, but Military Times determined which statements he made based on the actions and roles described in interview transcripts.
"When I'm being second-guessed by higher or somebody that's sitting in an air-conditioned TOC, why [the] hell am I even out there in the first place?" Swenson told investigators. "Let's sit back and play Nintendo. I am the ground commander I want that f—er, and I am willing to accept the consequences of that f—er."
Swenson added that he had been second-guessed on previous occasions, and was frustrated by a complicated process to clear fires, even under duress.
"I always get these crazy messages saying that, ‘Hey, brigade is saying that you can't see the target,'" Swenson told investigators. "Brigade, you're in Jalalabad. F— you, you know? I am staring at the target. ... I just get the craziest things on the radio sometimes. Just people second guessing. If I am willing to put my initials on it, I understand the importance of making sure the rounds hit where they are supposed to hit. I understand the consequences of civilian casualties."
An Army source with knowledge of the awards process previously said Swenson is "up for some kind of valor award," but he did not say whether it could be a prestigious award like the Medal of Honor. By policy, the military does not discuss pending military awards, said Bill Costello, a spokesman with Army Human Resources Command, out of Fort Knox, Ky.
The firefight lasted at least six hours, beginning shortly after dawn. At least two officers — with Task Force Chosin, a unit comprising soldiers from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y. — were later cited following the investigation for "negligent" leadership leading "directly to the loss of life" on the battlefield.
Killed in the battle were four members of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8. They are 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton. At least eight Afghan troops and an interpreter also were killed in the battle. Three Americans survived wounds sustained that day, but one of them — Army Sgt 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook — died a month later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center of complications from his injuries.