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Iraq War soldier Alwyn Cashe set to receive Medal of Honor after Senate passage of legislation

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe died in 2005.

U.S. ARMY

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: November 11, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that clears the way for President Donald Trump to award the nation's highest award for valor in combat to Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who repeatedly entered a burning vehicle in Iraq to save six fellow soldiers and an interpreter from harm and died a few weeks later.

The legislation, passed by unanimous consent, waives the legal requirement that the Medal of Honor be awarded within five years of a service member's acts of valor. Cashe has long been considered one of the war's great American heroes and would be the first African American to receive the award for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Former defense secretary Mark Esper supported the move in a letter to Congress in August after years of deliberations within the Army.

The Senate bill was introduced on a bipartisan basis following the approval of similar legislation in the House last week. In both cases, lawmakers said they wanted to move quickly.

"I am so grateful the Senate passed our bill to pave the way for the President to award Alwyn Cashe the Medal of Honor," Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who co-sponsored similar legislation in the House, said in a statement. "We are now very close to recognizing this unbelievably heroic soldier, who died saving his men, with our nation's highest award for combat valor - which he earned beyond a shadow of a doubt."

Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., said in the same statement that Cashe's bravery has inspired many people, and the passage of the legislation will allow him to be properly recognized.

"I'm incredibly proud to see both sides of the aisle, in the House and the Senate, come together to honor Cashe's legacy and award him the Medal of Honor," Waltz said.

The passage of the Senate version of the bill dragged out this fall, first amid a coronavirus outbreak that infected several Republican senators and then in the confirmation battle of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The Republican-led Senate approved her nomination 52-48 last month, and then broke for the election.

The approval of the Cashe legislation in both chambers leaves Trump's approval as the only hurdle to Cashe receiving the award. The president has not commented on the case, but Cashe is often cited within conservative circles as worthy of the award. A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the open case, said before the legislation's passage in the Senate that Trump would be supportive.

Cashe, 35, of Oviedo, Fla., was deployed to Samarra, Iraq, with the 3rd Infantry Division when the armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was in rolled over an improvised explosive device on Oct. 17, 2005. He was slightly injured by the explosion and drenched fuel, and realized the vehicle's fuel cell had erupted and the vehicle had burst into flames.

Cashe made numerous trips into the vehicle to recover fellow soldiers, suffering burns in the process. He died about three weeks later on Nov. 5 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, which is known for its unit treating burns suffered in combat.

Cashe was initially approved for the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for valor in combat. His commanding officer, then-Lt. Col. Gary Brito, later said that he did not initially have a full understanding for what Cashe did and has sought an upgrade for years. Brito is now a three-star general and the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel.

"Without regard for his personal safety, Sergeant First Class Cashe rushed to the back of the vehicle, reaching into the hot flames and started pulling out his soldiers," the Silver Star citation said. "The flames gripped his fuel soaked uniform. Flames quickly spread all over his body."

Cashe continued to assist others, even after he was on fire, the citation said. He suffered burns over 72% of his body.

Cashe's sister, Kasinal Cashe White, said in phone conference with reporters recently that she did not believe discrimination had a role in the Army's failure to award the Medal of Honor sooner. She cited a conversation that she had with Brito, who also is Black, in 2007.

Brito, she said, told her that no one in the 3rd Infantry Division had received anything higher than the Silver Star and that he knew from the information he had at the time that Cashe merited one.

"What I feel is that the information did not get back in time," she said.

White added that she "won't allow anybody to make it a race thing."

"He did what he did not because he was Black, but because he was a soldier and because he loved his men," she said. "And I believe they loved him in return."