Monday, December 15, 2014

Unrewarded Valor - Russ Vaughn

by Russ Vaughn

An interesting aspect of this issue is the absence of support from the Congressional Black Caucus. Why are they missing in action? Are they too busy pontificating and demonstrating on behalf of dubious heroes to convene their members in the office of the Secretary of Defense and demand action on behalf of a genuine hero

At a time of so much racial strife and discord, we should never lose sight of the fact that our military forces were the first, and remain the best, example of a fully integrated America. Yes there are problems from time to time, but there are few other places in our society where blacks, whites and Hispanics have learned to live and work together with a common mission as in our military. And that is an example that we seldom hear about from our media.

Instead we are treated by our sensationalist media to endless examples of lawlessness in black communities and the vitriol of the race-baiters like Farrakhan, vowing “We’ll tear this go**amn country up!” and unending charges of racism leveled against whites who question the values of black culture. However, we all, black, white, brown and whatever, should keep in mind the reality that we have family members out there serving shoulder to shoulder around this world, with some of them dying in the process.

Such is the case of Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe, who, on October 17, 2005, sacrificed his life to save those of the troops in his care. With his unit under enemy fire, SFC Cashe, his uniform soaked with fuel from a roadside explosion which ruptured the fuel tank of his Bradley Fighting Vehicle and set it afire, repeatedly entered the fiery interior to rescue his men who were trapped inside. Even with his uniform burned away and his flesh ablaze, SFC Cashe managed to pull six soldiers from the flaming interior. Four of them later succumbed to their burn wounds as did, some three weeks later, SFC Cashe.

For his incredibly selfless valor, SFC Cashe was awarded the Silver Star, an award that seems to many of us in the military and veteran communities, insufficient to the events of that terrible day. Colonels have been known to be awarded the Silver Star for monitoring and directing ground combat from the relative comfort of an overhead helicopter. I would wager that among all warriors, soldiers, sailors, aviators, etc., fear of death by burning or being horribly injured and disfigured by fire is greater than any other dread associated with combat. Yet SFC Cashe overcame that fundamental fear and charged directly into the flames repeatedly to save his young soldiers. A Silver Star seems a bit inadequate to reward that level of courage and self-sacrifice.

Among those who feel that Cashe’s bravery deserves more is the officer who was his battalion commander at the time, now Brigadier General, Gary Brito. According to this account in the LA Times, then Lieutenant Colonel Brito, was unaware of the full extent of Cashe’s actions because those soldiers immediately involved were too seriously wounded to provide many details and soon most would die from their injuries. And more so than for any other combat valor award, detailed documentation and corroboration are required for the Medal of Honor.

However, one of the two survivors and an eyewitness, now retired Army Sergeant Gary Mills, who was himself pulled from the burning vehicle by SFC Cashe, says there is no doubt in his mind that Cashe’s gallant actions warrant the highest award for valor and sacrifice. BG Brito, SGT Mills and Cashe’s sister, Kasinal Cashe White have been conducting a campaign for several years but the Obama Department of Defense seems unable or unwilling to do the right thing despite support for the award from multiple general officers.

One of the phrases frequently found in citations that accompany awards for valor, particularly those awarded posthumously, is “with selfless concern for his fellow soldiers and complete disregard for his own safety,” and a wonderful example of how deeply imbued that trait was in SFC Cashe is revealed in the Times article:
Cashe's sister, Kasinal Cashe White, spent three weeks at her brother's bedside at a military hospital in Texas as doctors treated his extensive burns.
She knew nothing of his actions during the bomb attack until a nurse asked her, "You know your brother's a hero, don't you?"
When Cashe was able to speak, White said, his first words were: "How are my boys?" — his soldiers, she said. Then he began weeping, she said. He told her: "I couldn't get to them fast enough."
Cashe died Nov. 8, 2005.
"My little brother lived by the code that you never leave your soldiers behind," White said. "That wasn't just something from a movie. He lived it." White says her family hopes Cashe is awarded the medal while his mother, who is 89, is still alive.
“How are my boys?” I have to tell you that this old former combat infantryman choked up on reading that account for the first time. Enduring unbelievable pain and suffering from a horribly burned body for three weeks, SFC Cashe’s first conscious words were of concern for his troops. I don’t know if that quote can be included in a Medal of Honor citation but it damned well should be. It should also be inscribed above the command entrance of every NCO academy in the United States Army.

An interesting aspect of this issue is the absence of support from the Congressional Black Caucus. Why are they missing in action? Are they too busy pontificating and demonstrating on behalf of dubious heroes to convene their members in the office of the Secretary of Defense and demand action on behalf of a genuine hero, of whom all of America, black and white, can be unified in their pride and admiration? They should pause the racial grandstanding long enough to secure a richly deserved Medal of Honor for SFC Cashe. Perhaps then his elderly mother can be brought to the White House for the presentation of the medal so that she can then go to her grave knowing her son’s valor and sacrifice have finally been recognized and rewarded by a genuinely grateful nation.

Readers might want to contact their own senators and congressmen just in case the Black Caucus is too busy supporting misguided demonstrations to fight for this gallant warrior. Arkansas Senator-elect Tom Cotton’s office has communicated to me that they will pursue the matter after he is sworn in, but the more representatives and senators pursuing the matter, the better.  

Russ Vaughn


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