Rep. Duncan Hunter compared the valor award cases of Army Capt. Will Swenson, left, and Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, right, in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. ()
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A congressman has called for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to give "fair and due consideration" to a controversial Medal of Honor nomination, said to be sitting on his desk, for an Army captain, linking it to a stalled high-profile case for a deceased Marine sergeant.
The case for former Army Capt. Will Swenson to receive the nation's top combat valor award for heroism in eastern Afghanistan has been "unfairly derailed by what appears to be nothing more than bureaucratic influence and arbitrary reasoning," said Rep. Duncan Hunter in a letter to Panetta on Monday. Hunter compared Swenson's case to that of late Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who died in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004 while covering a grenade, but was later http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2012/03/marine-rafael-peralta-new-details-could-reopen-valor-case-medal-of-honor-duncan-hunter-030112w/">denied the Medal of Honor.
"Peralta's Medal of Honor is long overdue while Swenson never received the thorough and unbiased review he deserved," Hunter said. "There are others who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who fit into these same categories, but a favorable decision for Peralta in particular will go a long way toward restoring credibility to a process that has failed to deliver the proper recognition for heroic acts worthy of the Medal of Honor."
Hunter's letter comes amid rampant speculation why Swenson has not yet received the award for leading soldiers and Marines who were pinned down under fire for hours on Sept. 8, 2009, in Ganjgal, Afghanistan, an insurgent-held village in Kunar province's Sarkani district. Swenson was first nominated for the Medal of Honor in December 2009, but the initial recommendation was lost "due to failures at multiple levels in tracking and processing the award," said Army Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
That same battle led to Sgt. Dakota Meyer http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2011/09/ap-dakota-meyer-awarded-medal-of-honor-091511/">receiving the Medal of Honor last September. The two men worked side-by-side during portions of the firefight, braving a hail of enemy fire in a frantic effort to find four missing members of a Marine embedded training team. All four members were found shot to death and were removed from the battlefield by Meyer and Swenson with the help of other U.S. forces.
Swenson's stalled case was re-opened last summer after Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, took an interest in it and called for an investigation into where paperwork was lost. The investigation determined that the case was botched "due to failures at multiple levels in tracking and processing the award, and that high turnover of personnel and staffs in theater contributed to the problem," said Collins, spokesman for the force that Allen leads.
In his letter to Panetta, Hunter notes that Swenson's case "was somehow lost, only to resurface when his story started gaining traction in the news media." His case was featured in a Military Times story last summer, with additional details coming to light in reports by the Wall Street Journal and McClatchy Newspapers. Swenson also is featured on the cover of this week's Army Times and in this week's Marine Corps Times.
The Marine Corps recommended that Peralta receive the Medal of Honor, but retired Defense Secretary Robert Gates denied it in 2008, citing an investigation in which forensics efforts questioned whether Peralta had the cognitive ability to consciously cover a grenade to save his comrades if he already had received a mortal bullet wound to the head.
Panetta said in June that he would review whether additional evidence presented on Peralta's behalf warranted a new look at the case, Hunter said. Peralta was awarded the Navy Cross - second only to the Medal of Honor - for heroism in 2008, but his family has declined to accept it.