Bernard J.D. Irwin earned the first Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on February 13, 1861. However, it was presented over 30 years later, on January 24, 1894. Since its inception, there have been 3526 recipients, 69 of whom are still living when I wrote this article. What follows are the stories of the 18 Medal of Honor Recipients (13 living and five deceased) who earned the United States’ top award for valor in military action during the War in Afghanistan.
The 18 Medal of Honor Recipients From the War in Afghanistan
1.US AIR FORCE JOHN CHAPMAN – MOH Action Date – MARCH 4, 2002 (DECEASED KIA)
Medal of Honor Recipient Technical Sergeant Chapman was a Special Tactics Combat Controller attached to a SEAL team in Takur Ghar, Afghanistan. When their helicopter was ambushed, he and the SEAL team voluntarily reinserted. Their mission was to rescue a teammate that had fallen into a group of enemy combatants. Chapman immediately assaulted in the direction of the nearest enemy position. He charged up a steep hill in thigh-deep snow to destroy an enemy bunker. That is when he came under heavy enemy fire from multiple directions.
Chapman paid no heed to his safety and exposed himself again to attack a second bunker. The enemies in this bunker were firing a machine gun at his team. During this assault, he was mortally wounded but continued to attack the enemy, sacrificing his life to save his teammates. Read the full details here.
2 – US NAVY BRITT SLABINSKI – Medal of Honor Action Date – MARCH 4, 2002
Senior Chief Slabinski was a Special Warfare Operator leading a reconnaissance team to a snow-covered mountain top. When they came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, their helicopter was hit. The damaged helicopter jerked violently, causing a teammate to fall onto the mountain before crash landing in the valley below. Slabinski rallied the rest of his team, and the five of them assembled supporting assets to rescue their teammate. While assaulting up the mountain, they began receiving enemy fire from three directions. One of Slabinski’s teammates started to assault an enemy bunker. Senior Chief Slabinski fearlessly joined his teammate in the charge and cleared the first strongpoint.
As machine-gun fire opened up from a second position, Slabinski repeatedly exposed himself to the deadly fire. Slabinski continued engaging with the enemy and orienting his team’s fires in the proper direction. The situation became unsustainable after several teammates were either wounded or killed in the firefight. The Senior Chief maneuvered his remaining team members to a more defensible position. For the next 14 hours, Slabinski directed air strikes and requested reinforcements. When they were forced from their position by enemy mortar fire, Slabinski carried an injured teammate through the snow. Slabinski continued to demonstrate his bravery as he evacuated the wounded while calling in air support on the enemy. He then stabilized the casualties and continued fighting until they secured the hill and extracted his team. Read more here.
3 – US NAVY MICHAEL P MURPHY – Action Date – (DECEASED KIA) JUNE 28, 2005
Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy was a United States Navy SEAL leading a special reconnaissance team. Their mission was to locate a high-level anti-coalition militia leader in Asadabad, Konar Province, Afghanistan. Anti-Coalition sympathizers told Taliban fighters where Murphy’s team was hiding. Murphy led his team in engaging with an enemy force of between 30 and 40 insurgents.
During this battle, it was impossible to communicate in the extreme terrain. Murphy fought his way to open terrain, exposing himself to direct enemy fire, to establish communication with his headquarters. Lieutenant Murphy then remained in his exposed position, provided his location. He requested immediate support for his team while simultaneously engaging with the enemy until he was mortally wounded. More details about this Medal of Honor Recipient are available here.
Medal of Honor Recipient Sergeant First Class Monti was a team leader with 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment. While leading a mission to gather intelligence and provide fire support during an operation in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, his sixteen-man patrol fell under attack from a large enemy force. Monti immediately had the patrol establish a defensive position and began calling indirect fire on the enemy. Sergeant First Class Monti suppressed the enemy and successfully disrupted their attempt to flank the patrol. He then exposed himself to enemy fire multiple times, trying to save one of his fallen Soldiers before being fatally wounded. Read the whole story here.
Specialist Kyle J. White was a radio telephone operator with Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion Airborne, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade during combat operations against an armed enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on November 9, 2007. Enemy forces in elevated positions ambushed his unit as they returned to their Outpost after meeting with village elders. Despite being completely exposed to enemy fire, Specialist White returned fire and was knocked unconscious by the concussion of a rocket-propelled grenade that impacted near him.
After regaining consciousness, another round exploded close enough to him to embed shrapnel in his face. White ignored his wounds and exposed himself to hostile fire to reach a fallen comrade and apply a tourniquet on the Soldier. He then maneuvered to a mortally wounded Marine and comforted him until he passed away. Moving back to the injured Soldier, Specialist White noticed the Soldier had sustained another wound. Using his belt as an additional tourniquet, White stopped the bleeding again and saved the Soldier’s life. Then, after stabilizing the Soldier, White exposed himself to enemy fire once again to secure an operational radio. By communicating with friendly forces to provide information and updates, White assisted in directing precision airstrikes, stifling the enemy attack, which provided medical aircraft the ability to rescue him and his comrades. You can get additional details on Kyle’s Medal of Honor here.
6 – US ARMY SALVATORE A GIUNTA – Action Date – OCTOBER 25, 2007
Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta was a team leader for Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment. A well-armed enemy force ambushed him and his team during a patrol in the Korengal Valley. Giunta noticed that his squad leader had fallen and believed he was injured, so disregarding his safety, Giunta exposed himself to hostile fire, helped his squad leader reach cover, and provided medical aid.
At the same time, enemy fire hit Specialist Giunta’s body armor and secondary weapon. Giunta immediately engaged the enemy. Using grenades to cover his movement, he led his team through enemy fire to other wounded Soldiers separated from the squad. After securing the wounded Soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that a Soldier was missing. Specialist Giunta moved to locate the missing Soldier and found two insurgents carrying him away. He engaged and killed one enemy and wounded the other, then rendered medical aid to the Soldier. Read more here.
7 – US ARMY ROBERT J MILLER – Medal of Honor Action Date – (DECEASED) JANUARY 25, 2008
Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller was the Weapons Sergeant in a Special Forces Task Force in Konar Province, Afghanistan. During a reconnaissance patrol in the Gowardesh Valley, he and his team identified 15 to 20 insurgents in built-up fighting positions. Miller initiated an attack and provided descriptions of the enemy positions enabling accurate close air support.
Afterward, Staff Sergeant Miller led a small team forward to assess the battle damage. As the group closed on the site, a large enemy force ambushed them from elevated positions with cover and concealment. Miller soon found his patrol exposed and vulnerable to the enemy attack, cut off from support, and less than 20 meters from the enemy. He ordered his team back to covered positions while he charged forward and provided covering fire for their movement.
While moving to the fight, Staff Sergeant Miller was shot in the upper torso. Nonetheless, he continued to push forward, drawing fire from over one hundred insurgents. Charging through yet another open area, Miller provided cover fire that allowed his teammates to reach safety. Miller killed at least ten enemies and wounded dozens more before being fatally wounded himself. His actions saved the lives of seven team members and 15 Soldiers of the Afghanistan National Army. Read his Medal of Honor Citation here
8 – US ARMY SGT MATTHEW O WILLIAMS – Action Date – APRIL 6, 2008
Sergeant Matthew O. Williams was a Weapons Sergeant in a Special Forces Task Force conducting a helicopter assault supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. The lead element, coming under intense enemy fire, sustained several casualties and were pinned down. Sergeant Williams led a counterattack across a valley of ice-covered boulders, through heavy enemy fire and a waist-deep, ice-cold river. Williams was able to maneuver his team of nationals up the mountain and besiege the enemy force.
Sergeant Williams established a perimeter to provide suppressive fire upon reaching the lead element, preventing the position from getting overrun. Williams exposed himself to enemy fire to give the team leader medical aid and move him to the casualty collection point. Sergeant Williams exposed himself to enemy fire again, fighting his way back up the hill. He directed suppressive fire, re-established radio communications, and assisted the wounded down to the casualty collection point.
Williams then led the Afghan commandos in a counterattack that prevented the casualty collection point from getting overrun by enemy fighters and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire. At the same time, he carried and loaded casualties on the evacuation helicopters. Williams simultaneously directed the Afghan forces as they suppressed numerous insurgent positions, allowing the patrol to recover and evacuate all the dead and wounded with no additional casualties. Find out more here.
9 – US ARMY SSG RONALD SHURER II – Medal of Honor Action Date APRIL 6, 2008 (DECEASED)
Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II served as a Senior Medical Sergeant with a Special Forces Task Force. During a helicopter assault, enemy forces attacked them with sniper fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and machine-guns. Shurer exposed himself to enemy fire to rescue a wounded Soldier. After stabilizing the injured Soldier, he fought his way up the hill to the lead element, where he treated and stabilized two more Soldiers.
Despite being hit in the helmet with a bullet, Shurer continuously exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he moved to and administered life-saving medical aid to wounded Soldiers. He then evacuated them, using his body as a human shield while he carried and lowered them down the mountainside and established a casualty collection point. He continued their treatment and helped load them into the medical evacuation helicopter. After he secured the wounded, Shurer regained control of his squad and rejoined the battle. You can get more information on this Medal of Honor Recipient here.
Petry was a Weapons Squad Leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, in Paktya Province, Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Petry was clearing the courtyard of a house suspected of containing high-value combatants. Petry and another Soldier took fire from automatic weapons from enemy fighters. Despite being wounded in both legs and still under enemy fire, Petry led the other wounded Ranger to cover, reported the situation, and engaged the enemy with a hand grenade.
The enemy maneuvered closer and began throwing grenades at the Rangers. The first enemy grenade knocked both Petry’s fellow Rangers to the ground with shrapnel wounds. A second enemy grenade followed, landing just a few feet away from them. Petry secured the grenade and threw it away from his teammates, saving their lives. But, as he released it, the grenade detonated, blowing off Petry’s right hand and causing other shrapnel wounds. He then administered self-aid and coordinated support for himself and his teammates. Go here for the rest of the Medal of Honor story.
Medal of Honor Recipient Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts served as a Forward Observer in 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Airborne Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade during combat operations at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler near Wanat Village, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Pitts’ observation post was attacked by a force of over 200 enemies using rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, and small arms fire. One rocket-propelled grenade engulfed the observation post, wounding and knocking Pitts to the ground and causing heavy casualties.
Despite bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to his arm and legs, Sergeant Pitts controlled the Observation Post and returned fire. Although Pitts could not stand on his own and was close to dying from blood loss, he continued to provide suppressive fire until reinforcements arrived. Sergeant Pitts continued suppressing the enemy with his remaining grenades. He then communicated with Command by radio, allowing them to provide indirect fire support and prevent the enemy from overrunning the Observation Post. There is more information here.
12 – US MARINE CORPS DAKOTA MEYER – Medal of Honor Action Date -SEPTEMBER 7, 2009
13 – US ARMY WILLIAM D SWENSON – Action Date – SEPTEMBER 8, 2009
Captain William D. Swenson served as part of Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Over 60 insurgents ambushed Swenson’s team while moving to a meeting with some Afghan elders in the village of Ganjgal. Captain Swenson returned fire, coordinated indirect fire support, air assets, and medical evacuation helicopter support.
Next, Swenson exposed himself to enemy fire as he moved to provide medical aid to a wounded Soldier, stopping just long enough to throw a grenade at the approaching enemy before helping move the Soldier for air evacuation. Captain Swenson, ignoring his safety, led a team into the kill zone in an unarmored vehicle, exposing himself to hostile attacks multiple times to recover the wounded and search for four missing troops. Swenson then returned to the kill zone again and voluntarily exited the vehicle amidst heavy enemy attacks, locating and recovering three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman. Find out more here.
14 – US ARMY CLINTON L ROMESHA – Action Date – OCTOBER 3, 2009
Sergeant Romesha was a Section Leader with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. On the morning of October 3, 2009, an estimated 300 insurgents attacked the Outpost with rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, long-range recoilless rifles, mortars, and small arms fire from all four sides.
Romesha exposed himself to intense enemy fire as he reconned the battlefield and sought reinforcements from the barracks. Romesha then destroyed an enemy machine-gun team. During an engagement with a second enemy machine-gun team, a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed a generator near Romesha. Despite the numerous shrapnel wounds, Romesha ignored the injuries and continued to fight.
He mobilized a five-person team and, returning with a sniper rifle, continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he destroyed several enemy targets, including three Taliban fighters who had breached Outpost’s perimeter. Hearing seriously injured Soldiers trapped in an exposed position, Romesha and his team maneuvered and provided covering fire. The injured Soldiers reached the aid station safely thanks to that cover fire. He then recovered several fallen comrades preventing them from falling into enemy hands. Learn more.
Specialist Ty M. Carter served as a Scout with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. When an estimated force of over 300 enemy insurgents attacked the outpost, Specialist Carter recognized the danger. He exposed himself to enemy fire numerous times as he ran a 100-meter gauntlet of enemy fire multiple times. Carter continuously risked his life providing ammunition to a stranded position and remained there, denying enemy overrun.
Although wounded himself, Carter ran through enemy fire to rescue a critically wounded comrade pinned down in an exposed position. After rendering first aid, Carter carried the Soldier to cover, then moved through the enemy fire again to check on another fallen Soldier and recover a radio, allowing them to coordinate evacuation efforts. Next, he assisted the wounded Soldier in moving through the 100-meter stretch of terrain exposed to enemy fire to the aid station. See more here.
16 – US MARINE CORPS WILLIAM KYLE CARPENTER – Action Date – NOVEMBER 21, 2010
While serving as an Automatic Rifleman with Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Lance Corporal Carpenter served as a Coalition Forces member Marines and an Afghan National Army squad. Enemy forces conducted a daylight attack on a rooftop security position, manned by Carpenter and a fellow Marine.
When a grenade landed in their position, Carpenter moved in and attempted to shield his fellow Marine from the deadly blast. Carpenter’s body absorbed most of the explosion, severely wounding him and saving his fellow Marine’s life. Find more details available here.
Captain Florent A. Groberg served as Detachment Commander for a Personal Security Task Force in Asadbad, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. During a dismounted movement toward the Provincial Governor’s compound, Captain Groberg noticed an individual with an abnormal bulge underneath his clothing walking close to the formation.
Disregarding his safety, Groberg charged the individual, pushing him away from the formation and confirming that the bulge was a suicide vest. With assistance from another security detail member, Captain Groberg physically pushed the suicide bomber away from the formation. The suicide bomber detonated his vest far enough away from the formation that it caused a second, unobserved suicide bomber’s vest to explode prematurely.
The attack killed four members of the formation and wounded several others. Still, Captain Groberg’s immediate actions significantly minimized the impact of the coordinated suicide bombers’ attack on the formation, saving several lives. His bravery earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. More information here.
18 – US NAVY EDWARD C BYERS – Action Date – DECEMBER 8-9, 2012
Chief Byers served as the primary breacher on a Hostage Rescue Force Team Member in Afghanistan during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. Chief Byers exposed himself to enemy fire to clear a path for the team. After the enemy small-arms fire mortally wounded the first assaulter, Chief Byers fearlessly rushed into the room and killed the enemy guard, then tackled another male running toward the corner of the room.
After confirming the man was not the hostage during the hand-to-hand struggle, Byers dispatched him. When Byers identified the hostage, he jumped on him, shielding him from the ensuing firefight. Chief Byers then immobilized another combatant with his bare hands while simultaneously protecting the hostage, saving the lives of several of his teammates and the hostage. Learn more here.
Established over 150 years ago, the Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award for military valor in action. Although there are currently three variations to the Medal, the meaning behind it is singular and clear. Each recipient demonstrated courage, sacrifice, bravery, integrity, deep love of country, and a desire to do what is right. They deserve our gratitude. You can also read about the Seven Medal of Honor recipients from the war in Iraq. Thank you!