First Army officer from operations in Iraq, Afghanistan to receive Medal of Honor
September 16, 2013
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 16, 2013) -- Former Army Capt. William D. Swenson will be presented the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony Oct. 15, making him the sixth living recipient of the nation's highest military award for valor during combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Washington State native will receive the Medal of Honor for his conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Sept. 8, 2009, during combat operations against Taliban insurgents in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
"It's a monumental event for me, for my family and for my teammates," Swenson said after receiving word directly from Obama. "This day also means a lot to those I served with."
During his second tour in Afghanistan, Swenson served as an embedded adviser with the Afghan Border Police Mentor Team in support of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. He was tasked with mentoring members of the Afghan National Security Forces.
On the morning of Sept. 8, 2009, Swenson and his team moved on foot into the rural community of Ganjgal for a meeting with village elders. It was then he and his team were ambushed by more than 50 well-armed, well-positioned insurgent fighters.
As the enemy unleashed a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades, mortar and machine gun fire, Swenson returned fire, coordinated and directed the response of his Afghan Border Police soldiers, and simultaneously tried to call in suppressive artillery fire and aviation support.
After the enemy effectively flanked Coalition Forces, Swenson repeatedly called for smoke to cover the withdrawal of the forward elements. Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces inflicting effective and accurate fire, Swenson coordinated air assets, indirect fire support and medical-evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded.
Swenson ignored enemy radio transmissions demanding surrender and maneuvered uncovered to render medical aid to a wounded Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth W. Westbrook. Swenson stopped administering aid long enough to throw a grenade at approaching enemy forces, then assisted with moving Westbrook for air evacuation.
After using aviation support to mark locations of fallen and wounded comrades, it became clear that ground recovery was required due to the proximity of heavily-armed enemy positions to potential helicopter landing zones.
With complete disregard for his own safety, Swenson voluntarily led a team into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on three occasions to recover the wounded and search for missing team members.
Returning to the kill zone a fourth time in a Humvee, he exited the vehicle, evaded a hail of bullets and shells to recover three fallen Marines and a Navy corpsman, working alongside then-Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer, who on Sept. 15, 2011, received the Medal of Honor for his own actions in the battle.
After six hours of continuous fighting, Swenson rallied his teammates and effectively disrupted the enemy assault.
Swenson was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant following graduation from Officer Candidate School on Sept. 6, 2002. His military training and education includes the infantry Maneuver Captains Career Course, Ranger Course, Infantry Officer Basic, Infantry Mountain Leader Advanced Marksmanship Course and Airborne School.
His military decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with Two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters; the Purple Heart; the Army Commendation Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one campaign star; the Iraq Campaign Medal with two campaign stars; the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; the Army Service Ribbon; the Overseas Service Ribbon; the Combat Infantryman Badge; the Ranger Tab; and the Parachutist Badge.