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Medal of Honor numbers starting to rise

WASHINGTON — The White House announcement Tuesday that Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry will receive the Medal of Honor marks the fourth time that President Barack Obama has recognized heroism in Afghanistan with the nation’s highest military award, a dramatic difference from the lone medal awarded for actions in Afghanistan by President George W. Bush during his eight years in office.

Defense Department officials insist that no new rules or priorities have been established for awarding the medal in the last decade, and that the small number of awards for the two wars simply reflects the indirect nature of the fighting in both countries. Nearly 250 men received the medal for actions in Vietnam. Petry will be the ninth man to receive the award for the current wars.

The timing of the awards also reflects the long processing time that precedes the honor. Petry’s heroic actions took place in May 2008. Typically, defense officials take more than two years to research the incident before recommending the candidates for White House consideration.

The awards also likely reflect the strategic focus of the military shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan in recent years.

During his time in office, and during the height of the Iraq War, Bush recognized four heroes from that fight 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 (including Petry, who will receive his in July), Obama has also awarded three Medals of Honor to servicemembers from earlier wars. Bush awarded nine total during his presidency, including one posthumous award dating back to the Civil War.

Petry will be the second living recipient of the award since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. All five men honored by Bush (four from Iraq, one from Afghanistan) were posthumous awards.

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