WASHINGTON — When Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry receives the Medal of Honor in July, he’ll be the fourth hero from the war in Afghanistan to receive that recognition from President Barack Obama.
That’s a dramatic difference the previous administration, which awarded only a single Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.
White House and Defense Department officials for years have come under criticism for the sparse number of Medals of Honor in recent years. But three new recipients have been chosen for the nation’s highest military honor in the last 10 months, and defense officials recently hinted that more could be on the way.
In testimony before Congress this spring, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Clifford Stanley said that the department is “diligently processing additional Medal of Honor nominations for the president’s consideration, including nominations for other living servicemembers.”
Lawmakers for years have complained that military officials have been stingy in recommending servicemembers for the award, adopting unofficial and overly restrictive criteria for recognizing war heroes.
But Pentagon officials insist that no new regulations or priorities have been established, and the small number of awards for the two wars simply reflects the indirect nature of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly 250 men received the medal for actions in Vietnam. Petry will be the ninth man to receive the award for the current wars, even after more than 2 million troops have been deployed during nearly a decade of continuous conflict.
When Bush left office, he labeled the Defense Department’s inability to find a living recipient for the medal one of his greatest regrets.
The timing of the awards for the two living recipients — Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was the first living honoree last fall — illustrates the long processing period that precedes the honor. Both Giunta and Petry were recognized for actions that took place more than three years ago.
The recent increase in awards for service in Afghanistan also reflects the strategic focus of the military shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan in recent years.
During his time in office, Bush recognized four heroes from Iraq with Medals of Honor. Obama, who publicly pledged to end U.S. military involvement in Iraq shortly after taking office, has not awarded any Medals of Honor for that war.
Along with the four Afghanistan heroes, Obama in just three years has awarded three Medals of Honor to servicemembers from earlier wars. Bush awarded nine total during his presidency, including one posthumous award dating to the Civil War.
Medal of Honor facts and figures
**In military history, 19 men have received the Medal of Honor twice.
**Only one woman has been awarded the Medal of Honor: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War civilian surgeon.
**Only one member of the Coast Guard has been awarded the Medal of Honor: Douglas Munro, for actions at Guadalcanal in 1942.
**Theodore Roosevelt, who commanded the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, is the only president to be awarded the medal.
**Army Sgt. William Carney was the first African-American to receive the medal, for actions during the Civil War. Since then, 87 African-Americans have received the award.
**Both Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his father, Arthur, received the Medal of Honor.
**During the Civil War, 1,522 Medals of Honor were awarded. At the time, it was the only military award available.
— Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes