WASHINGTON — In eight years of conflict in Iraq, the Department of Defense and White House only identified four servicemembers deserving of the Medal of Honor, all posthumously awarded.
In the 15 years of fighting in Afghanistan, only 13 servicemembers have been recognized with the Medal of Honor.
The low number of recipients is one of the factors that prompted the DOD to review approximately 1,100 medals earned by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and to determine whether higher honors might be merited.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the review also reflects input from veterans groups.
“There have been some concerns expressed that perhaps there needs to be greater recognition,” Cook said. “This is in part a response to that … to determine if indeed certain servicemembers deserved different recognition than perhaps they received initially.”
There have been 3,496 Medal of Honor recipients in U.S. history. The first recipient was awarded the medal in 1863.
- 424 were awarded for actions in the Indian Wars during the U.S. westward expansion from 1863 to 1891
- 1,523 were awarded for actions in the Civil War from 1863-1865
- 122 were awarded for actions in World War I, 1917-1918
- 473 were awarded for actions in World War II, 1941-1945
- 146 were awarded for actions in the Korean War, 1950-1953
- 259 were awarded for actions in the Vietnam War, 1964-1975
- 2 were awarded for actions in the Somalia Campaign, 1992-1995
- 4 were awarded for actions in Iraq, 2003-2011
- 13 have been awarded for actions in Afghanistan, 2001-2016
DOD spokesman Matthew Allen said the review would be initiated by each service. The Medal of Honor and each of the service crosses – the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross – must be awarded within five years of the military action being recognized. In cases where more than five years has passed, which is the case for all of the Iraq medals, the service has to request a time waiver from Congress, he said.
“We will follow appropriate procedures, including working with Congress to obtain necessary time-waiver legislation, to ensure servicemembers are properly recognized,” Allen said.
The services have until Sept. 30, 2017 to review all of the medals.
“The sheer number that are being reviewed here, more than 1,000, would indicate that there’s the possibility” that additional Medal of Honor recipients would be identified, Cook said.
The Pentagon announced it would review the honors and establish new guidelines for awarding medals. The recommendations, which include two new awards for combat-specific actions and a specific award for drone operators, must be implemented in the next 12 months.