William D. Swenson

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William D. Swenson
Swenson speaking to reporters at the White House after receiving the Medal of Honor on 15 October 2013
Born (1978-11-02) November 2, 1978 (age 35)
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 2002-2011, 2014-Present
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain
Unit 32 Inf Rgt DUI.jpg 32nd Infantry Regiment,
10MountainDivCSIB.jpg 10th Mountain Division
USICorpsSSI.svg I Corps
Battles/wars Iraq War
War in Afghanistan
* Battle of Ganjgal
Awards Medal of Honor ribbon.svg Medal of Honor
Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star
Purple Heart BAR.svg Purple Heart

William D. Swenson (born November 2, 1978) is a captain in the United States Army who was awarded the Medal of Honor on 15 October 2013.[1] He was the first living United States Army officer to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, as well as the sixth living recipient in the War on Terror.[2]

Military career[edit]

Swenson graduated from Seattle University with a Bachelor of Science degree in political science. He commissioned from Officer Candidate School as a United States Army Infantry Officer in September 2002. His military education, mostly at Fort Benning, includes Basic and Advanced Infantry Officer Courses, Ranger School, and Airborne School. He has deployed three times in the War on Terror, once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.[3] He has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal (with two oak leaf clusters), the Purple Heart, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.[4] At the time of the Battle of Ganjgal, Swenson was a Captain in 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, detailed as an Embedded Trainer for the Afghan Border Police.[5]

He left the Army in February 2011 and lived in Seattle, Washington.[6] On 14 March 2014, he was accepted back onto active duty and currently serves as a plans officer at the I Corps headquarters.[7]

Awards and decorations[edit]

The U.S. Army lists[8] Swenson’s awards and decorations as including:

Bluebird-colored ribbon with five white stars in the form of an "M". Medal of Honor
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Width-44 scarlet ribbon with width-4 ultramarine blue stripe at center, surrounded by width-1 white stripes. Width-1 white stripes are at the edges.
Bronze Star Medal with two bronze Oak leaf clusters
Width-44 purple ribbon with width-4 white stripes on the borders Purple Heart
Width-44 myrtle green ribbon with width-3 white stripes at the edges and five width-1 stripes down the center; the central white stripes are width-2 apart Army Commendation Medal
Width=44 scarlet ribbon with a central width-4 golden yellow stripe, flanked by pairs of width-1 scarlet, white, Old Glory blue, and white stripes National Defense Service Medal
Bronze star
Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one bronze Campaign star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Iraq Campaign Medal with two Campign stars
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Width-44 ribbon with width-6 central ultramarine blue stripe, flanked by pairs of stripes that are respectively width-4 emerald, width-3 golden yellow, width-5 orange, and width-7 scarlet Army Service Ribbon
Ribbon numeral 2.png Army Overseas Service Ribbon with award numeral 2
NATO Medal for service with ISAF

Captain Swenson has five Overseas Service Bars.

Medal of Honor action[edit]

On September 8, 2009, Swenson was part of an operation to connect the Afghan government with native elders in the Ganjgal Valley in Eastern Kunar Province in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.[9]

According to the U.S. Army's detailed Official Narrative, the coalition force's 106-man column entered the valley and was ambushed at about 6 a.m. by as many as 60 insurgent fighters who soon surrounded the column on three sides, situated on terraced high ground.[9] Within an hour, communication to the front of the column, including four U.S. servicemen, was lost.[9] Meanwhile, Captain Swenson, who initially was positioned toward the rear of the column, called for air support, and with two comrades crossed 50 meters of open space under direct enemy fire to administer life-extending first aid to his severely wounded sergeant.[9] When the column was surrounded by enemy fighters that advanced within 50 meters, Swenson responded to Taliban demands for surrender by throwing a hand grenade, an act of defiance that rallied his comrades to repel the enemy advance.[9]

Swenson and comrades moved his sergeant and other wounded to a helicopter for medical evacuation before returning to the enemy's "kill zone" for at least two more trips in an unarmored vehicle to evacuate additional wounded.[9] Returning even more deeply through the kill zone toward the location of the head of column in search of the four U.S. servicemen, Swenson's party first rescued and recovered several Afghan National Security Force wounded and dead.[9] Finally, Swenson and a small contingent recovered the four fallen U.S. servicemen who had been discovered by a search and rescue aircraft at noon.[9] The 6-7 hour firefight caused 15 coalition deaths, including the four U.S. servicemen; also, Swenson's sergeant, Kenneth Westbrook, died of his wounds after returning from Afghanistan.[9] Swenson's actions are believed to have directly contributed to saving more than a dozen Afghan lives.[9]

Captain Swenson directs medical evacuation of a wounded comrade[10] during a battle for which he received the Medal of Honor
Swenson approaches a medical evacuation helicopter that he guided to land using the red marker that he still carries. 
Swenson (left) helps carry a wounded comrade (center) to the helicopter for medical evacuation. 
Before returning to battle, Captain Swenson kisses the forehead of his wounded sergeant, Kenneth Westbrook, who died of his wounds weeks later. 
U.S. President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around Swenson's neck in a White House ceremony four years later. 

Medal of Honor award[edit]

Swenson received the Medal of Honor on 15 October 2013. He was nominated for his actions as an Embedded Trainer in the Battle of Ganjgal near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on 8 September 2009. He is reported to have repeatedly entered the "kill zone" in order to rescue wounded American and Afghan soldiers, much like his fellow serviceman Dakota Meyer who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2011.[4]

For reasons which remain unclear, the paperwork was lost, causing a significant delay in the nomination process. Some believe that Swenson was being punished for loudly criticizing his senior officers (for not sending fire support) in an after-action investigation into the battle.[5] His case was reopened in 2011 at the urging of Marine Corps General John R. Allen.[11] Dakota Meyer strongly advocated for Swenson's Medal of Honor in his book, Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War, writing that if it weren't for Swenson, he (Meyer) would not be alive today.[12]

Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony[edit]

On October 16, 2013 Swenson was inducted into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes. During the ceremony, the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff presented Swenson with a framed copy of his Medal of Honor citation.

Following the Medal of Honor presentation at the White House, on October 16, 2013, Swenson was inducted into the Pentagon Hall of Heroes. The ceremony was officiated by Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense. Hagel was assisted by the Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno and the Sergeant Major of the Army, Raymond F. Chandler.[13] During the ceremony, Chuck Hagel apologized to Swenson for the mishandling of his award nomination, which had been delayed for 19 months because of what officials called a bureaucratic oversight.[14] McHugh later told the standing room only audience that the Army would implement a new process providing greater oversight to "ensure that no future award packet is lost along the way or paperwork misplaced or somehow forgotten in the fog of war." The new directive, McHugh stated, required Medal of Honor nominations be sent immediately to Army Human Resources Command, known as HRC. "As soon as an honors packet is created at battalion level, we will have immediate visibility at Army headquarters," he told the audience.[13]

Referencing allegations that Swenson's award had been intentionally lost as a result of his criticizing leadership actions after the battle,[14] Odierno said that "Swenson's strength of character was undeniable. Even after the battle, Will was not afraid to point out deficiencies in the operation that caused difficulties in obtaining the appropriate and timely support necessary. He recognized the importance of assessing performance, and had the character to stick to his convictions."[13]

Following the presentation of his framed citation and the personal Medal of Honor flag, Swenson spoke briefly.

"I look at this crowd and I see the strength of a nation and I see the strength of a fighting force, one that I fought proudly with. I look at my fellow Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force, a team that I fought side-by-side with as brothers. It's the proudest moment of my life and I'm honored and privileged to know these men."[13]

Medal of Honor Citation[edit]

Cmoh army.jpg

Medal of Honor Official Citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Captain William D. Swenson distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as embedded advisor to the Afghan National Border Police, Task Force Phoenix, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan in support of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009. On that morning, more than 60 well-armed, well-positioned enemy fighters ambushed Captain Swenson's combat team as it moved on foot into the village of Ganjgal for a meeting with village elders. As the enemy unleashed a barrage of rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and machine gun fire, Captain Swenson immediately returned fire and coordinated and directed the response of his Afghan Border Police, while simultaneously calling in suppressive artillery fire and aviation support. After the enemy effectively flanked Coalition Forces, Captain Swenson repeatedly called for smoke to cover the withdrawal of the forward elements. Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces inflicting effective and accurate fire, Captain Swenson coordinated air assets, indirect fire support and medical evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded. Captain Swenson ignored enemy radio transmissions demanding surrender and maneuvered uncovered to render medical aid to a wounded fellow soldier. Captain Swenson stopped administering aid long enough to throw a grenade at approaching enemy forces, before assisting with moving the soldier for air evacuation. With complete disregard for his own safety, Captain Swenson unhesitatingly led a team in an unarmored vehicle into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on at least two occasions, to recover the wounded and search for four missing comrades. After using aviation support to mark locations of fallen and wounded comrades, it became clear that ground recovery of the fallen was required due to heavy enemy fire on helicopter landing zones. Captain Swenson’s team returned to the kill zone another time in a Humvee. Captain Swenson voluntarily exited the vehicle, exposing himself to enemy fire, to locate and recover three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman. His exceptional leadership and stout resistance against the enemy during six hours of continuous fighting rallied his teammates and effectively disrupted the enemy's assault. Captain William D. Swenson's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and the United States Army.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/3485/swenson-swenson-d.php
  2. ^ Lesley Clark (16 Sep 2013). "After long wait, Seattle man gets highest military honor". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 17 Sep 2013. 
  3. ^ "Profile: William D. Swenson". United States Army. Retrieved 15 Oct 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Capt. William Swenson: Former soldier to receive Medal of Honor". Stars and Stripes. 16 Sep 2013. Retrieved 17 Sep 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Dan Lamothe (13 September 2011). "Afghan ambush heroics go unrecognized". Army Times. Retrieved 17 Sep 2013. 
  6. ^ "Army Captain William D. Swenson Receives Medal of Honor". TIME. Oct 15, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-16. 
  7. ^ http://www.armytimes.com/article/20140409/NEWS/304090067/Medal-Honor-recipient-returns-active-duty
  8. ^ "Profile / William D. Swenson". U.S. Army. Archived from the original on September 18, 2013. Retrieved September 18, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Official Narrative / Captain William D. Swenson". U.S. Army. 2013. Archived from the original on October 15, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Raw Video: Battlefield Actions of Former Army Cpt. William Swenson" — frames from video recorded September 8, 2009 and uploaded September 19, 2013 to the official "The U.S. Army" YouTube channel. WebCite archive.
  11. ^ Dan Lamothe (16 January 2013). "Congressman Medal of Honor Probe Complete". Marine Corps Times. Retrieved 17 Sep 2013. 
  12. ^ Hal Bernton (15 September 2011). "Seattle man in same battle as medal winner". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 17 Sep 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d Leipold, J.D., (October 17, 2013) "Swenson Hall of Heroes induction brings changes to MOH processing" Army News Service. Retrieved October 18, 2013 [1]
  14. ^ a b Nakamura, David (October 16, 2013) "Hagel apologizes to Medal of Honor recipient for bungling of paperwork that delayed award" The Washington Post, page 3. Retrieved October 18, 2013 [2]
  15. ^ "Official Citation / Captain William D. Swenson". U.S. Army. 2013. Archived from the original on October 16, 2013. 

External links[edit]