Army Secretary John McHugh (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
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A congressman who is pressing the Army to explain a mystery surrounding nine potential Silver Star recipients said Army Secretary John McHugh still has questions to answer.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine combat veteran who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan before running for Congress, said McHugh's answer regarding an awards records data breach left "ambiguity" and "unaddressed concerns."
"In the cases of the Silver Stars in question and possibly a greater depth of misidentified award recipients, it is critical that Soldiers are rightly and fully recognized for their combat actions — a commitment that I know we share," Hunter said in a Nov. 9 letter to McHugh.
In August, a private contractor exposed online a database of Army awards that contained nine Silver Star recipients who are not listed in the Defense Department's Valor Awards website.
In response to an inquiry by Hunter, McHugh said in a Nov. 5 letter that four of these recipients did not receive the Silver Star, and the remaining five did, "but are not listed due to the sensitive nature of the operation in which they participated."
Hunter, an advocate for transparency in the awards process, asked in his letter why the Army is classifying information about award recipients themselves, and not only their actions.
Do the recipients even know they received the award, he asked. And if they do, are they allowed to wear their awards?
If the awards were classified, why was information about them available to a private contractor for a listing the Army planned to make public, Hunter asked.
Hunter also asked McHugh whether the Army is conducting a review related to the four soldiers who did not receive the Silver Star to determine whether similar errors exist elsewhere.
In McHugh's Nov. 5 letter, he detailed the Army's efforts to investigate the breach that led a file of valor information for 518 of the Army's most decorated soldiers since 2001 to appear online, and to protect the 32 soldiers whose personal information appeared in the database.
Each of the 32 soldiers, or their next of kin, was contacted by Human Resources Command and offered one year of paid credit monitoring to correspond with the compromised Social Security number.
McHugh said he directed a formal investigation of the breach, which included a review of the service's processing procedures for high-level awards. Personnel who routinely handle personal information were being "retrained on handling procedures to ensure the information is appropriately safeguarded," he said.