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Trump signs bill clearing way for DOD to recommend Medal of Honor for Alwyn Cashe

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe died after pulling fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq in 2005.

U.S. ARMY

By CHRIS ADAMSKI | The Tribune-Review, Greensburg | Published: December 5, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Alwyn Cashe, the Army sergeant honored on the back of the helmet of Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva this season, has been cleared to posthumously receive the Medal of Honor.

President Donald Trump on Friday signed a bipartisan bill previously passed by the U.S. House and Senate that waives a statute of limitations to present the highest military honor to Cashe, who died in 2005 while attempting to save his fellow soldiers during a tour in Iraq.

Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, said coach Mike Tomlin gave him permission to honor Cashe, whose death at age 35 incurred from injuries after entering a burning vehicle that had been subjected to an explosive device. As described in the Military Times, Cashe's repeated rescue attempts resulted in second- and third-degree burns over 75% of his body.

"Witnesses said that even as the heat burned his uniform and body armor off of him, Cashe continued to ignore the pain to pull his men out of the fire," Leo Shane III wrote in a Military Times account.

"I felt that my decision to honor Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe was something that was very personal to me," Villanueva said during September, "due to the fact that in the veteran community there is a strong push to get him a Medal of Honor, which is something that the community believes that he deserves."

Villanueva's decision to honor Cashe during the season opener at the New York Giants was not without controversy because earlier that day the Steelers had announced that the team was going to wear the name "Antwon Rose Jr." on the backs of their helmets. A story posted to the team's official website emphasized that the entire team would wear the name of Rose, a Black teen who, in 2018, died after being shot from behind three times by East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld. Rose fled on foot from a vehicle that had been pulled over because it had been involved in a drive-by shooting minutes earlier in North Braddock. Rosfeld was acquitted by a jury the following spring.

In his sixth season as the Steelers' starting left tackle, Villanueva was the only Steelers player whose helmet did not have Rose's name for the season opener. Rose's mother, Michelle Kenney, criticized Villanueva for that decision in a since-deleted Facebook post. In the wake of protests over social justice and perceived racial inequity this summer, the NFL in 2020 allowed players to affix the names of victims of police brutality or associated phrases connected to the movement.

Since the opener, many Steelers have either had different individuals' names on their helmets or phrases such as "End racism," or "It takes all of us."

Cashe, who is Black, was initially awarded the Silver Star for valor. But since, many have argued that he deserved the most prestigious Medal of Honor because an enemy bombing the vehicle qualified the situation as "active combat."

The bill signed Friday was introduced in the House two days after Villanueva's helmet was seen by 10.8 million viewers in a "Monday Night Football" television audience. The bill, introduced by U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Michael Waltz, R-Fla., and Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent last month. It was presented to the president last week.

According to a release from the office of Rep. Murphy, Trump signing the bill clears the way for the Department of Defense to formally recommend to the president that he award Cashe the Medal of Honor. The President has the sole authority to award the Medal of Honor.

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