President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to former Army Capt. William Swenson at the White House on Oct. 15, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)
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Swenson awarded Medal of Honor; seeks return to active duty
WASHINGTON - William Swenson received his Medal of Honor on Tuesday, but he's not done serving.
Swenson, the sixth living servicemember to be honored with the medal for actions in Afghanistan, has asked to return to active duty, according to military officials interviewed by the Associated Press.
The wire service said Swenson has submitted a formal request to the Army and officials are working with him to allow his return.
Swenson left the service in 2011, two years after his heroic actions at the Battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan. Swenson, who lives in Seattle, made no mention of his career plans to reporters after his White House Medal of Honor ceremony.
"This award was earned with a team, a team of our finest: Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy and our Afghan partners, standing side by side," he told reporters.
"And now that team includes Gold Star families who lost their fathers, sons and husbands that day. This medal represents them. It represents us."
Swenson was honored for the same battle as former Marine Dakota Meyer, who received his Medal of Honor more than two years ago.
On Sept. 8, 2009, Swenson and other U.S. forces were assisting Afghan security personnel on a mission in the Ganjgal Valley. The friendly forces were ambushed during the early morning approach to a village, leaving dozens wounded and dead.
Swenson helps his men fight back, coordinating air support and ground manuevers as the enemy closed in. At one point, when enemy attackers just yards away signaled to the Americans to surrender, Swenson responded by tossing a hand grenade at them.
The attack lasted nine hours; five U.S. troops were killed. All five were honored at the White House ceremony, with a stoic Swenson and President Barack Obama leading a round of applause for the families of the fallen.
In a letter to those families last month, Swenson wrote that although they had never met, "I would like to believe that I know something about each of you through the actions of your loved ones on that day. They were a part of a team. And you are now a part of that team."
President Obama awards Captain William Swenson, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor
Obama also acknowledged that Swenson wasn't comfortable with the media attention and the formality of the ceremony.
"He'd rather be off somewhere in the mountains than here," the president said. "But I think our nation needs this ceremony. Moments like these, Americans like Will, remind us of what we can be at our best."
News reports have noted inconsistencies in battlefield recap between Swenson's reports and those of Meyer, casting questions as to which is more accurate. Army and Marine Corps officials have repeatedly backed their version of events.
Swenson's Medal of Honor nomination was delayed for at least two years after officials lost the information, which has also lead to controversy. Skeptics have accused Army officials of burying his award because of harsh criticism he leveled in the days following the attack, saying commanders did not respond quickly enough to calls for support.
Five months after the battle, three Army officers were reprimanded for their refusal to provide air support to the besieged force and "negligent leadership."
If Swenson returns to active duty, he'll be the third currently serving soldier with a Medal of Honor. Sgt. First Class LeRoy Petry and Staff Sgt. Ty Carter also received the honor for actions in Afghanistan.
Medal of Honor Citation:
Rank and organization: Capt. William D. Swenson, Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division
Place and date: Afghanistan, Kunar Province, September 8, 2009
Citation: 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.