Since being part of the 2010 Medal of Honor Convention, I have read and published scores of narratives for valor medals. While the actions of these men are all truly incredible, the actions of Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe in Iraq on Oct. 17, 2005 are astonishing. Especially considering he was only awarded the Silver Star.
Cashe occupied the gunner's turret of a Bradley fighting vehicle when it was hit by an IED. Cashe managed to escape the vehicle, but the vehicle's fuel cell had ruptured and ignited, setting fire to the men stuck inside. Cashe was covered in fuel, and insurgent small-arms fire was targeting the Bradley. Cashe rescued the driver, who was on fire, and opened the hatch to rescue the burning soldiers still inside. His uniform caught fire, but he continued his rescue efforts - even running into the inferno to pull out the medic.
Of those wounded in the attack, Cashe's burns were the most severe. He succumbed to his wounds on Nov. 8, 2005. I run into burning buildings for a living as a fireman. But I cannot imagine running into a burning vehicle while soaked in fuel and on fire myself to rescue multiple victims. This man did, he died doing so, and was only awarded the military's third-highest medal for valor. Lyndon Johnson got a Silver Star for just riding on an airplane.
From the narrative to accompany the award:
Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe, United States Army, distinguished himself by exceptional gallantry in action in the face of violence while serving as the platoon 1h sergeant of 151 Platoon, Alpha Company (Hard rock). 151 Battalion, 15 Infantry Regiment, based at FOB Mackenzie, Salah a Din Province, Iraq.
On 17 October 2005 , SFC Alwyn Cashe's heroic actions saved the lives of six of his fellow Soldiers. At approximately 1915 hrs, his platoon departed the forward operating base along Route Jaime to conduct a route clearance operation along a supply route that ran through the town of Duliaya; a town adjacent to the FOB.
After traveling about 4-5 kilometers, the lead Bradley fighting vehicle, of which SFC Cashe was in the gunner's hatch, struck a vehicle detonated IED emplaced across the route at grid MC 25377243. The blast ignited the fuel cell causing fuel to spew throughout the vehicle igniting a fire and causing the vehicle to roll to a stop. Also, from the forward left flank of the blast site, the platoon received enemy small-arms fire.
Soaked with fuel himself, SFC Cashe managed to dismount from the vehicle and assist the driver, SPC Howe, whose uniform was on fire. SFC Cashe extinguished the flames on SPC Howe.
Six soldiers and an interpreter were in the troop compartment of the burning vehicle. Flames had engulfed the vehicle and were darting from the weapons ports. One of the soldiers in the back of the vehicle attempted to open the hatch door in an attempt to help the soldiers escape. The flames intensified and everyone inside was aflame. Without regard for his personal safety, SFC Cashe rushed to the back of the vehicle, managed to help open the door and began to pull the soldiers out, one at a time. In doing this, the flames totally gripped his fueled soaked uniform causing severe, painful burns. Despite this pain, he bravely continued to pull his troops out of the vehicle and feverishly worked to put their flames out. As the chaos continued, SFC Cashe noticed that the platoon medic was still inside. He rushed back to the vehicle, reached through the flames and pulled out the medic. All this despite being on fire himself.
Within moments, a trail vehicle arrived and assisted with the CASEVAC. Although severely burned, SFC Cashe bravely continued to take control of the situation as besthe could. Shortly thereafter, the company first sergeant, 1SG Chris Mackenzie, accompanied by medics and other soldiers from the company arrived and began to evacuate the severely burned soldiers, the worst of which was SFC Cashe. The FOB helipad served as the LZ/PZ for the air evacuation. Badly burned, all six soldiers were alive when they were air evacuated. The interpreter did not survive the blast and was immediately transported to the battalion morgue.
Throughout the nightmarish ordeal, ten soldiers were injured. Six of the ten were treated at the Balad Hospital. Five of those six, including SFC Cashe were later evacuated through Landstuhl to the burn center in San Antonio, Texas. Sadly, over the next few weeks, four of the six died of wounds.
Despite being the most severely injured with 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 72% of his body, SFC Alwyn Cashe endured while his soldiers were alive. He suffered through painful surgeries, infections, organ failure and loss of body parts as he continued to be the consummate Platoon Sergeant to his Soldiers. SFC Alwyn Cashe died of his wounds on 8 November 2005. He was the last of those so severely injured that terrible night to die.
SFC Cashe's selfless and gallant actions allowed the loved ones of these brave soldiers to spend precious time by their sides before each succumbed to their dreadful injuries.
Although he is no longer with us, SFC Alwyn C. Cashe is the type of hero that historians will write about.
His actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military heroism and reflect greatly upon himself and the US Army.
Not to take away from the honor and tradition of our military decorations, but sometimes cloth and metal don't quite seem sufficient to recognize people like Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe. I expect that his medal will be upgraded. If not, it is time to overhaul the awards process.