Central Command launches inquiry into Medal of Honor awardee

Military leaders at Central Command have launched a command-wide review on why former Army Capt. William Swenson's Medal of Honor award was mired in Pentagon red tape for months before the Afghan war veteran was granted the commendation. 

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin has ordered U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) to "conduct a detailed review of their complete awards tracking process" and submit their findings and recommendations to the four-star general. 

"I can assure you we will make any changes to improve this process," Austin said in a letter sent to California Republican and Afghan veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) on Thursday. 

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In a letter sent to Austin earlier this month, Hunter pressed the Central Command chief to conduct the review, after a separate investigation by the Pentagon inspector general's office found serious flaws with the battlefield commendation process in place at USFOR-A. 

"The responsibility of recognizing the actions of our brave men and women, many who have made the ultimate sacrifice, must not be taken lightly," Hunter said in the Nov. 7 letter. 

Whole portions of commanders' recommendations for Swenson to receive the nation's highest battlefield commendation were lost or misplaced as the request made its way though the department's chain of command. 

As a result, Swenson received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the 2009 Battle of Ganjgal Valley in October, almost two years after former Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer received his medal for his role in the same battle in eastern Afghanistan. 

During their inquiry, Pentagon investigators found Gen. David Petraeus — then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan — pushed for Swenson to receive the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, which is the second-highest battlefield commendation for U.S. forces. 

The Petraeus reportedly called for the lesser award due to Swenson's repeated criticism of U.S. commanders, whom the former Army captain claims refused repeated requests for air and artillery support during the six-hour firefight in the Ganjgal.  

Swenson and his unit of soldiers, Marines and Afghan troops were ambushed by a 60-man Taliban force during a combat patrol through the Ganjgal Valley. 

Under heavy fire, Swenson and other soldiers repeatedly moved into and out of the so-called "kill zone" in the valley to pull the wounded to safety, while coordinating the U.S. counterattack. 

Swenson is the sixth living veteran of the Iraq and Afghan war to receive the Medal of Honor, and the fifth Afghan veteran to be awarded the commendation. 

Aside from Meyer, Army Staff Sgts. Clint Romesha, Sal Giunta and Ty Carter are also surviving Medal of Honor recipients who served in Afghanistan.