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Troops, vets campaign to award MoH to fallen SFC

Jun. 21, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe and his soldiers were on patrol in Samarra, Iraq, on Oct. 17, 2005, when their Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit an IED.

Drenched in fuel, his uniform burned off his body, Cashe crawled out of the Bradley. Ignoring the flames searing his flesh and the rattle of enemy gunfire, Cashe went back into the vehicle again and again, pulling out every one of his six soldiers from the wreckage.

Three weeks later, on Nov. 8, with second- and third-degree burns over more than 70 percent of his body, Cashe died at San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas.

For his actions that day in Iraq, Cashe was awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor.

Now, almost nine years after his death, Cashe’s former battalion commander, Col. Gary Brito, and a growing number of steadfast supporters are pushing for the fallen soldier to receive the Medal of Honor.

Brito nominated Cashe for the Silver Star because, early on, the details of Cashe’s heroism were still unclear.

Many of the men who witnessed Cashe’s actions were severely wounded and had been evacuated out of theater. In addition to Cashe, three other soldiers died from their wounds from that day. The soldiers’ Iraqi interpreter also was killed.

Cashe “assisted in evacuating them out of the burning vehicle,” Brito told Army Times.“They were all evacuated to the United States alive, and that’s when they started to succumb to their wounds.”

Two more soldiers were wounded — but survived.

Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Dodge is one of those soldiers.

Dodge, who was a squad leader under Cashe’s leadership, was in the back of the Bradley when he heard the explosion. The blast knocked Dodge unconscious.

“I woke up and I was on fire,” he said.

The bomb had penetrated the fuel cell underneath the Bradley, igniting the fuel and spewing it into the vehicle and all over the soldiers, Dodge said.

Dodge fought to breathe as he tried to put out the flames on his uniform. Then he heard someone yell that the ramp to the troop compartment was stuck.

“The ramp couldn’t go down, and people were yelling for the ramp to go down,” he said.

Dodge managed to open the smaller personnel door and pushed out of the burning Bradley.

“I got out and got myself fully extinguished, and Sgt. Cashe showed up next to me,” he said. “All of his uniform was burned away, except for where his boots and his body armor and helmet were. He asked me where everybody else was, but I didn’t know because I was so dazed. He said, ‘We’ve got to get the boys out,’ and we started pulling people out.”

As he learned more about Cashe’s actions, Brito said, he made a personal decision to fight for Cashe to earn the MoH.

“What didn’t strike you the first time is you couldn’t have imagined the pain and the suffering,” he said.

Brito is working with Army Human Resources Command’s awards branch to submit a request for an upgrade.

“They helped me refocus on what the Army needs, and I need to look at witness statements and get new statements,” Brito said. “They’ve been very helpful.”

Dodge said he, too, believes Cashe deserves the MoH.

“I know not a lot of us survived, but maybe none of us would have survived if not for him,” Dodge said.

Harry Conner never met Cashe, but he feels a connection to him.

He sees parallels between his eight years in the Army, from 1972 to 1980, to Cashe’s military career.

Both were drill sergeants, and both served in the 3rd Infantry Division. Cashe was a platoon leader with 3rd Infantry’s Divisions, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, while Conner, a field artillery soldier, served as a liaison to the same unit.

Conner is a co-founder of the Facebook group “SFC Alwyn C. Cashe Deserves the Medal of Honor,” which has more than 2,300 members.

To further raise awareness, Conner, 62, recently completed a 1,200-mile bicycle trip. Conner began his “Duty, Honor, Country Bike Ride” April 27 in Sanford, Florida, where Cashe was laid to rest. He reached his goal, New York City, on June 12.

Conner has made it a mission to share Cashe’s story, but it’s not always an easy one.

“Sometimes I get flat pissed off, thinking, ‘why do I even have to do this? Sgt. Cashe should have received the Medal of Honor seven years ago.’ Or sometimes I wonder if I’m making a difference.”

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